What is a Speech and Debate Champion? By: Abby Wright

Abby Wright knows what it is like to be a champion. She is a two time NCFCA champion, not just for one event, but two. She is the NCFCA 2015 After Dinner Speaking Champion and the 2017 Persuasive Champion. Here is her perspective on what it means to her to be a “National Champion.”

The below bullet points are Psychology Today’s core attributes of… something. To what do you think they are referring?

• Strives to find out how great he or she can be
• Talks soft, plays big
• Loves the battle more than the victory
• Hates to lose, but is not afraid to lose
• Goes through the fire to reach their goals
• Always competes with purpose and passion
• Learns lessons from losses
• Lives in the present moment
• Focuses on continuous daily improvement
• Does not base his or her self-worth on the scoreboard

My freshman year, before my first tournament ever, my dad asked me what my personal goal for the season was. I responded I wanted to qualify to nationals (a bit ambitious, but, hey, didn’t Walt Disney say if you can dream it, you can do it?). My dad frowned and said, “You should come up with a more realistic one.”

After duct taping my shattered dreams back together, I asked him from what hole of pessimism had he climbed. Chuckling, he explained to me that it wasn’t that he didn’t think I could make it to nationals, it was just the question of what happened when/if I got there. “What if you don’t make it to nationals? Do you just consider the entire speech season a fail? What if you do qualify? Do you quit trying once you get there?” He had a point. With a little help, I changed my goal. It morphed into becoming a better public speaker.

Over the next four years, I had the extreme honor of being dubbed ‘national speech champion’ twice. I have been congratulated by hundreds of people, most of whom think I’ve reached the top. Even I thought I’d reached the top after winning nationals my sophomore year. But guess who came back to nationals her junior year and didn’t even make it to finals? Me. But who was a better public speaker than the year before? Also me.

So I ask you…. what made me a champion?

I never debated. I never did Apologetics or Extemporaneous. I competed in Impromptu at one tournament and my first time was 3:42. If you’ve made one Apol card or given one Extemp speech, you’ve already championed those events more than I ever did. But the novice who panics during prep time and whose mind goes blank doesn’t consider himself a champion. And the girl who has to give an Apol speech without a card doesn’t introduce herself feeling like a champion.

Again, I ask you… what even is a champion?

According to Dictionary.com, a champion is someone who has defeated everyone. I am proud to report that Jesus is the only human to have ever fit into that definition. And because we are heirs, made in his image and filled with his spirit, we are all champions for Christ. Young and old, we can approach day to day life with the confidence that our Heavenly Father views us as perfect creations. I competed against many a person who felt that true fulfillment wouldn’t come until they walked off that stage with a trophy in hand. If you think a national title will complete you, let me be the voice of reality – winning won’t help. Our identity should lie solely in being children of God. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

By now, you’ve probably realized that the quoted list at the beginning is defining a champion. Read it again. How much more would I rather fit that definition than Dictionary.com’s!

I am a winner telling you that winning in and of itself is mediocre. You know what feels better? Going through fire to reach my goals. Or learning lessons from losses. I have some of the greatest respect for fellow competitors who never won anything big. Most of them don’t know it, but to the rest of us they are true champions.

I am not going to lie, my national championship trophies are proudly displayed in my room. But so are the medals from the tournament at which I broke for the first time. My favorite ballots (even from the final round at Nats) are not necessarily from the judges who gave me first, but rather from the judges who expressed how my speech changed them. I came into the NCFCA with no public speaking experience, with no platform to share the Gospel, and I walked out with my goal accomplished – I became a better public speaker and an ambassador for Christ. I am still learning and I am still growing. I am not a champion on my own. But I’ve learned that life with Christ can bring everlasting fulfillment and joy. That, to me, is the greatest championship of all.

Abby Wright just finished her first year at UNC Chapel Hill, where she is majoring in Public Relations within The School of Media and Journalism.