Senior Tajaih Robinson doesn’t often get nervous. As captain of the SA HSLA debate team, he’s had his fair share of high-pressure moments, going head-to-head with some of the nation’s top talent on college campuses across the country. He knows the power of preparation and has the confidence of a much older leader — due, perhaps in part, to being one of the few students of color to compete and succeed at such high levels in a field prone to elitism.
But on Friday, September 6th, Tajaih was a little nervous. What was strange was that he wasn’t even competing. He was in North Castle, New York, attending the invite-only Byram Hills Round Robin tournament — and he had voluntarily given up his chance to compete so that he could devote his attention to preparing teammate Chase Earland. A junior, Chase has been debating ever since middle school at SA Harlem West, but it wasn’t until last year that he started to try Lincoln-Douglas style and to see success in these tournaments. He was elated when he received an invitation to compete in this round robin tournament, the season’s opener.
Over the summer, Chase had doubled down on honing his talent, earning two full-ride merit scholarships to top debate camps in New York and Texas. He’d returned to school more than ready to prove himself — but he needed someone older and more experienced in Lincoln-Douglas to help him through the most competitive tournaments. As team captain and as a friend, Tajaih wanted to step in. He also knew firsthand just how much hard work it takes to go from an intermediate to a top-notch competitor in Lincoln-Douglas; he’d put in enough late nights and hours of work over the course of his high school career to make history. So he and Chase, determined to leave an impression, got to work.
SA debate manager Meagan Kowaleski is used to seeing scholars put in the time to prepare for a debate tournament, but she’s rarely seen a duo as focused as these two teammates. “They started running drills from the moment Chase got the invitation, staying up until all hours to make sure he felt confident going into the tournament. Chase has made a name for himself as one of the most thorough researchers on the team; he reads like crazy regardless of the topic.”
While research goes a long way in debate, it’s still crucial to make sure to construct arguments that have airtight warrants — the logical reasoning underlying a claim — that can be followed to a clear impact. This was an area where Chase has previously struggled, and one in which Tajaih is particularly adept. Knowing this, Tajaih focused on coaching Chase in argument-building between rounds. To their excitement, the intellectual workout started to pay off. From his unusual seat in the audience, Taijah cheered as Chase won ballot after ballot, with teams of judges in every round selecting him the winner. In fact, he only dropped two out of nine ballots, meaning that there was a nearly unanimous decision that Chase was the clear winner of the entire tournament.
Even though Tajaih is a remarkably passionate debater, he didn’t regret missing out on competing — this time around. “Coaching Chase was so great; I got to see him grow and was proud of how his arguments improved to have full warrants and clear impacts. I’m excited to debate alongside of him for the rest of the season!” Both scholars dream of joining the ever-growing ranks of Success Academy graduates who have earned full-ride scholarships to debate in college, and both credit debate for their ambition to become successful lawyers. Congratulations Tajaih and Chase! We can’t wait to see what you achieve next.
Tajaih, left, and Chase, right, after winning the Lincoln-Douglas season opener at Byram Hills.
Pictured above: SA junior Chase Earland