Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How It Played Out

How am I supposed to do that? I have my hand-picked 4 and they’re proving themselves to be as good as I thought they would be, but Bruce and Daisy are showing themselves well. Jack is no great shakes but Dorwyn is a powerhouse. Worse: I’ve bonded with these kids. I can see the hope in their eyes. I know how hard they’ve worked. Every one of them, with the possible exception of Jack deserves a shot!


Sam has left after agreeing we need to add Speech and Debate to our curriculum as an elective, and promising to help me talk with Dean Lisa about it. The kids roll in. Sam had already sent them the same message he sent me about having to cut the team, but they asked me for confirmation. I decided we would stage a debate and evaluate each competitor’s performance. From that we would pare our team down to the required number.   


The topic was: “Should schools provide enrichment programs”. Each contestant debated their assigned position. Brianna was the hands-down winner: she came in at exactly 7 minutes, as required by the World University Debate Challenge format. She had a great intro, brought up 10 points of information and backed each one up. Celine fell way short of the 7 minute mark and was not as well prepared, bringing up only 7 points of information. I was surprised by her showing. Last practice we had she blew us all away.

Dorwyn took tops at enthusiasm and clarity. Daisy had the best body language. Elliott is just a clown; cannot fail to amuse, all while being succinct. Bruce, arguing from the athletic platform took points for his views. Stark positing pure rationale, per his personality. Even Jack bounded up eagerly and, for the first 2 minutes, spoke effectively. All in all, besides Brianna, everyone fell short of the mark.

Again: how am I supposed to make this decision?

The critique round did not help. I asked each team mate who they thought the best candidate was. Of course, each candidate wanted to go. Elliott unselfishly stated his partner, Stark, did a better job. Celine gave props to Brianna. Brianna voted for Dorwyn. I was back to square one, trying to decide which of these passionate, desirous, hard working kids would represent our school.

I sat there, nonplussed, phone in my hand. I had asked Sam if someone else would come today to evaluate the kids’ performance and make their recommendation. I feared I could not be objective, having found in each one a quality that would enhance our standings. Besides, my heart was in the matter and I found it hard to separate heart from mind to make a rational decision.

Nope, all on me. This is a very busy time at our school, with Canadians visiting and exams pending. No one else was available. I wanted to send Sam a message begging for help but did not know what the write.  

In the end, I made the most rational decision I could: send the sophomore team. This might be their last chance to compete. The freshmen still had another year that they would be eligible for such opportunities. And then, Celine blew us all away.

She said she was not proud of her performance. She ran short, time-wise, and did not prepare her arguments well. She kept getting lost in her notes. In her opinion, Dorwyn deserved to go. And than she burst into tears, burying her face in Elliott’s shoulder.

I have seldom been faced with such gallantry. While I agree with her that her performance today was not stellar, there are greater issues involved. She and Brianna have worked together, and have known each other for 2 years. Would Bri and Dorwyn have that same dynamic? And then, if Dorwyn gets to go, why not Daisy, or Bruce? They were also good. Besides, I know what Celine is capable of. We all do. Bri and I traded places and I cradled the weeping girl.

I have no idea what stuff Dorwyn is made of but if it ever gets bottled, nobility will be an easily achieved commodity. She turned down Celine’s offer. In my arms, stillness. Celine had stopped crying and, while she still had her face buried she was listening.

Celine really wanted to go. She relished the challenge. She couldn’t wait for competition. But she felt that Dorwyn would be a better contender: less resistant to stress, more enthusiastic and more able to succeed.

And Dorwyn! She was overcome by Celine’s concession and barely containing her joy! How she managed to decline this chance handed to her was a mystery. I didn’t catch all of her reasoning because I told them they could discuss it in Chinese, but I caught enough to know that, whether she competes or not, Dorwyn is a winner. 

As a coach, this was my moment to shine. After making sure Celine had all the cuddling and comforting she needed, I told my team that winning is not our primary objective. Learning is. While we did learn quite a bit these last 2 weeks, and those who will debate this weekend will learn even more, the most important lesson we needed to learn was today. Celine and Dorwyn’s selflessness is a lesson for us all.

After a quiet moment of reflection, Elliott chimes in: “I’m sad. We’ve all become friends and now it is over. We’re all going to chase our pursuits and lose touch with one another.” The others nodded, morose. Imagine my joy at inviting them over for a celebration dinner next week: how their faces lit up!!!

Smiles and relieved chatter all around. Phone numbers exchanged, promises of staying in contact. Light hearted ribbing. Dorwyn asking Brianna for pointers. Daisy showed everyone the picture of she and I in our night class, last year. Of course, I took a lovely picture of our group.

Bruce announced he had to go coach his basketball team. That broke up the meeting. Everyone pitched in to help clean up despite my exhortations to leave things be. And then, they all clatter out the door.

With a team like that, coaching is really just a formality.  

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