[eDebate] (no subject)
Mon Jun 1 22:09:20 CDT 2009
Debate Heroes, they happen everyday:
Joliet West student is debate crusader
June 1, 2009
By CATHERINE ANN VELASCO <cvelasco at scn1.com?Subject=Story.Response>
cvelasco at scn1.com
JOLIET--When Sarah Robinson transferred to Joliet West High School from
Nebraska, she planned to join the debate team her sophomore year, but there
was one problem.
Joliet Township High School District didn't have a debate team.
? Click to enlarge
Robinson (above) stands with her high school debate team trophies. After
transferring to Joliet West from Nebraska, she started a JTHS debate team
and won numerous awards.
(Michael R. Schmidt/Staff Photographer)
"With a bigger town, I expected something," recalled Sarah who attended
Kearney High School as a freshman.
"They had a huge debate team. It was a huge deal. Everyone knew the debate
team. We were the only team that won state championships that year in our
school," she said. "Then, I moved here and there was nothing."
Similar to track and field, there were individual events she could
participate in so Sarah created an one-person team.
"I love the camaraderie and the intellectually-charged atmosphere at debate
tournaments--it turns a light on inside my head," she said. "I love the
feeling of standing up to give a really good speech."
For three years, Sarah, now 18, represented JT in Lincoln-Douglas debates,
debating moral and ethical issues, such as nuclear proliferation and the
"There are people with 50 people on their teams and they have professional
coaches and there is me," she said.
Sarah relied on her parents, Matt and Peggy Robinson, who gave her moral
support and were friendly faces at the debates as well as her ride to the
weekend events that were sometimes five hours away.
"She was really at a serious disadvantage having no coach and having no
team. Peggy and I would maybe listen to her case and helped. ... We didn't
have the background to help her and do the research," said Matt, pastor of
Westminster Presbyterian Church in Joliet.
"She couldn't do practice rounds with teammates," said Peggy, senior branch
office administrator at Edward Jones in Joliet.
"She didn't have coaches to consult with between rounds at tournaments,"
Matt said. "It was tough. I've been really proud of her."
Chick in a tie
The one-woman debate team became a legacy among schools statewide. She was
easy to spot as the only female dressed in a suit and tie which was her
"There were kids that came up to me from Evanston," Sarah said. "They were
like 'Oh, you're that girl. My coach had a lecture with us before this
tournament and said that some people are here without coaches and teams.'"
"A young man said to Sarah before the tournament, 'Well, you don't know me,
but I know who you are,'" Matt said.
Those sentiments meant a lot to Sarah.
"I didn't think anyone noticed, honestly, what I was doing. It felt really
good to know that even though I don't win big awards at state, someone is
noticing my efforts," she said.
Twice the work
The first two years was rough with Sarah almost moving up to the next level,
but not scoring enough points to do so.
During debates, teammates would observe and take notes on Sarah's case and
give a summary to their teammates so they could prepare.
"Everybody knew her cases because they had teammates," Peggy said.
"I'd would walk into a round and no nothing," Sarah said.
So she came up with a plan
"I would honestly start to write three to four cases per tournament," Sarah
"So they wouldn't know what she would argue so she still had an element of
surprise which is three to four times the work," Matt said.
Sarah started this strategy at the end of her junior year.
"I started to realize that if I was going to be serious, if I was going to
win then I needed to do twice the work because I'm half the team," she said.
All her hard work paid off during her senior year, winning second place at
IHSA State Tournament in Bloomington. There, she came home with a medal for
second place for All State Speaker Award and Octa Finalist Award. She also
earned the special distinction degree in the National Forensics League.
Sarah got help from unusual sources: her competition. They were impressed
and wanted to help her out. Peter Lemperis, a graduate from Glenbrook North
High School, would critique her debates. Debate coaches Lainee and Scott
McGraw from Carl Sandburg High School would take Sarah aside and help her
with her cases.
"They didn't divulge to their team what Sarah's cases were even though she
was the competition," Peggy said.
"We'd have tough rounds where I would debate with one of their teammates. It
always ended with a handshake and we were fine," Sarah said. "I really felt
I was part of their team. It was nice. ... They would include me in their
team pep talk."
The Robinson family even went to the school's banquet dinner for the debate
Chris Olson, athletic director for JT, helped out Sarah through JT
Foundation grants so she could attend debate camps and provided the funds to
pay for a judge at the tournaments which was a requirement to debate.
Sarah, who graduated from Joliet West High School on Friday night, showed
off her talent as graduation speaker. In the fally, she will attend
Northwestern University, majoring in philosophy and political science,
minoring in French. She plans to join the Peace Corps, helping out anywhere
she is needed before going to law school.
Her words of wisdom: "Don't let anyone stand in your way--ever," she said.
"I faced a lot of adversity and at times there were tears. I cried a lot,
but if you find something that you're really passionate about and I was
really passionate about it. ... If you find something that you are
passionate about, don't let it die. Keep it alive."
Mark J. Hlavacik
The Pennsylvania State University
Department of Communication Arts & Sciences
316 Sparks, Cube 1
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