Traveling across the country to represent Mount Vernon, Zach Strother, Upper School Science Teacher and Debate Team Coach, took four debaters to compete in the 2014 California Invitational Forensics Tournament, hosted by the University of California – Berkeley, February 15-17.

Competitors Harrison Jones, Johnnie Stupek, Marissa Mecke and Parker Willsey comprised the mobile team of three second-year debaters and a single first-year debater.

After registering to attend the tournament, the two pairs were put on the waiting list. Only a few days before their departure were they told they would actually get to debate. Slotted into the JV division, both duos (Jones/Stupek and Mecke/Willsey) would be competing in a pool of 115 student teams, composed of 229 high school students, representing 43 high schools in 14 different states.

Through the preliminary rounds, Mecke/Willsey went 3-4, a considerably strong standing for a first-year/second-year debating team in a major national tournament.

Jones/Stupek finished prelims with a staggering 6-1 record, entering the elimination rounds as the 5th seed out of 115 teams. Going on to win their double-octafinal round, and in the midst of a six-round winning streak, their proud coach tweeted:

Zach Strother ‏@StrotherZach
Jones and Stupek keep
Winning; now we need to get
On a later flight.

In a shutout 3-0 decision, Jones/Stupek won their octafinal. Shattering the brackets, with only eight teams left standing, the dynamic duo moved up to quarterfinals. Debating their way through to semi-finals, their incredible run ended against the number one team in the pool – a pair of juniors from Little Rock Central in Arkansas.

Though the first-place prize wasn’t to be theirs this time, they were able to bask in the glory of doing their best and surpassing their own expectations.

“The best part,” says Strother, “is that Johnnie and Harrison seemed really pleased with their tournament performance overall, but their biggest focus after the round was reflecting on their strategic choices, asking the three-judge panel for their perspectives on the arguments, and generally honing their approach for the next tournament. These kids are dedicated!”

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