One year ago, I was working hours each day to prepare for the 2017 NCFCA National Championship. Each day I gave impromptus, studied my apologetics cards, read the news, brushed up on my platform speeches, honed my LD cases, perfected my arguments, and researched outside cases in the Moot Court packet. It’s been seven years since I attended my first tournament and nearly one year since I became the NCFCA sweepstakes champion. My freshman year of college has stretched, challenged, and grown me in ways the girl who walked across that stage couldn’t have imagined. My tangible awards are on the shelves and stuffed in the drawers of my room… they collected a lot of dust while I was away. I understand that it could be easy to assume that I remember my time in NCFCA through the lens of my successes, but I’ve had a year to reflect. I want to share what I still hold near to my heart as I look back. These lasting memories shape who I am and how I coach current and future competitors. These are my remembrances…
Preparation: I remember the process of preparing for each speech event. Every platform speech had its lightbulb moments, its grueling hours of editing, and its moments of victory. Some speeches were born as I drove to activities. Others were conceived in coffee shops or during intentional work sessions with my coach. A whole year of college assignments later, I’ve turned in essays that I couldn’t wait to work on and walked into grueling written exams that required thinking on the spot. I found in each case that my tournament preparation skills were instantly transferable. I still outline every essay with the same mental process I used to design impromptu speeches and I study for exams by delivering spontaneous lectures to empty classrooms. I encourage you to take the process of preparation seriously for each speech event. Learn to be comfortable in the uncertainty of a new idea and all its glorious haze. Memorize the sensation of victory and completion. If you’ve never taken the process of forming and practicing speeches seriously, I challenge you to make next season the year that you savor the journey of designing and writing a message that you are proud of (and seriously, do impromptu!!!!!!!). The work of preparation in the world of speech and debate is only providing you a taste of a lifelong process, whether you continue it in higher education or other career opportunities. It’s an experience that continues to benefit me.
Faces: The more speeches I delivered, the more faces I saw. Many of these faces were never connected with a name or a conversation, but I remember them vividly. I remember the face of the first judge who ever belly-laughed in the middle of my impromptu speech and the first judge who cried during one of my platforms. Their responses gave me confidence in my message. I can see in an instant the smiles of community judges and the tired faces of my fellow competitors, the tears of disappointment on one face and face-splitting joy on another. NCFCA tournaments allowed me to witness faces of every age and skin tone, wearing every happiness and hiding every pain. You may be tempted to feel like you’re competing alongside teenagers whose experiences are just like yours, speaking for judges who are similar to your parents, but you aren’t. Observe the faces around you. When you can, reach out to them in each of their emotions. Remember that they have both names and stories.
Mountains and Valleys: The longer I competed in NCFCA, the more tournaments blended together in my memory. I couldn’t recall which speeches I’d entered at each tournament, what the results had been, or whether I went to the after party. But even a year later, there are a few moments that I can relive in an instant. There are both mountaintops and valleys that are equally important. Though winning sweepstakes at the national championship was an incredible experience, the mountaintop moment that resides in my fondest memories has everything to do with a person. My dear sister Allyson and I spent a lot of time working together over the years, particularly on apologetics. We were blessed to take first and second at two tournaments during the years we competed together. I will remember the tears of excitement and treasure the photos of our embrace for the rest of my life. God used my time in the NCFCA to shape far more than my physical delivery, critical thinking skills, and relationship with my sister. I failed repeatedly to be a humble communicator. I needed honest conversations and the rebukes from mentors that illuminated by shortcomings as a friend and competitor. I made some unwise decisions that others could see, choices that I had to take responsibility for. I have been able to recall the lessons learned in these valleys and continue to put the advice I received to work in my life as a college student.
Goodbyes: Lastly, I remember the goodbyes. I said goodbye to acquaintances and I bid tearful farewells to people who had changed my life. The season ended and I knew that many beautiful experiences and people were no longer going to be a part of my life. You may stay in touch with people in your club and area. You may choose to get involved (as I did) in the next groups of competitors through coaching opportunities. But no matter how many tournaments you go back to judge as an alumni, the experience will never be the same. Work to build friendships in your time as a competitor. Don’t make the mistake I made in often hesitating to be vulnerable or putting competition far above conversation. Find out how God is working in people’s lives and invest deeply in the fascinating, brilliant Image-bearers you have the blessing to be surrounded with. When the journey ends, you may weep even as you turn with eager anticipation towards the next chapter of your story. Instead of fearing the end or shrugging it off, strive to make your goodbyes indicative of much love extended and many friendships treasured.
The remembrances I have shared are an all-too-brief snapshot, but they carry an inescapable theme. The most important memories I took away from my years as a speech and debate competitor have nothing to do with awards and everything to do with the people I met and the lessons I learned. It is the work ethic I developed, the character traits I honed, and the faces and friends I walked alongside that touched my soul. Whether you’re a new teenager concerned about making friends when you start this speech league adventure next season or a high-school senior about to head to your last tournament, you too will someday reflect. You will have the opportunity to dwell on precious memories whether there are zero or forty trophies collecting dust in your closet. God wants you to walk away having learned truths about yourself and His world that will equip you for the rest of your life. What will your remembrances be?
Kaitlyn Butts competed in the NCFCA for six years in all of the Limited Prep and Platform events. Highlights of her career included ten top-10 finishes at the National Championship, featuring a win in Apologetics in 2016 and Biographical Narrative in 2017. She was delighted to receive the title of 2017 National Sweepstakes Champion. Kaitlyn is pursuing a double major in Music and Philosophy at Grove City College. Along with continuing her passion for the art of communication through coaching, she enjoys her endeavors as a pianist, runner, and admissions office employee. Kaitlyn still takes every opportunity to grow her own communication and coaching skills and she hopes to become a professional public speaker. She loves to help students craft their platform speeches with beautiful rhetoric and polish their limited prep delivery through a range of persuasion techniques.