Senior Qualifies to Tournament of Champions For First Time in Event


Senior Phoenix Pittman (second from left) poses with preparation group at the 2020 TFA State tournament. This tournament was last March, and became a large source of inspiration for Pittman.

Joshua Smith, Managing Editor of Entertainment and Editorials

On Nov 1, Phoenix Pittman finished in the top 8 in the Florida Blue Key Speech and Debate tournament, completing his qualification to the Tournament of Champions hosted each year by the University of Kentucky. This is the first time a debater from Lindale has qualified in Lincoln-Douglas debate.

“On the national circuit the Tournament of Champions [is] a metric that a lot of people use to indicate growth and overall excellence in the activity,” speech and debate coach Rory McKenzie said. “Over the summer [Pittman] saw a lot of personal growth because even though he didn’t have the most successful year last year, he really worked methodically and got it.”

During quarantine and n the summer before this debate season, Pittman worked endlessly to ensure that his results improved.. He attended four debate camps last summer, as compared to the usual one or maybe two that students participate in. 

“I did hours and hours and hours of drills, readings, strategy examinations, notes on lectures, and practices,” Pittman said. “I thought that I never wanted to [do poorly again] so I started signing up for camps, applying for scholarships to pay for those camps, making a personal drill schedule for each day and reading as much as possible.”

Not only did Phoenix compete locally, but because of online debate he had the opportunity to compete across the nation each weekend. This gave him much higher access to tournaments that otherwise could not have been afforded because of travel fees among other various expenses. 

“Phoenix has competed in tournaments in Pennsylvania, Florida, New York City and even in Louisiana this year,” McKenzie said “He is really looking for those opportunities and he is seizing the chance that online debate proposes.”

As the first to make a Tournament of Champions bid from Lindale in Lincoln-Douglas debate, Pittman represents important growth within the speech and debate program.

“ I was ecstatic and it was such a euphoric experience that it literally did not feel real even while it was happening,” Pittman said. “When I saw my name on the list, I think I almost cried since I had been working almost twelve hours a day for debate for six months and it finally came to fruition.”

This is a great success story that not only motivates current students within the program, but serves as a story for all of those that come after Pittman. He has done something that Lindale has never done before, and will be remembered for breaking that barrier down in the future. 

“Ultimately, as his coach I am really proud of not only the fact that he’s achieved what he’s set out to, but we’ve got such a great anecdote that shows that when you want something bad enough you really can just go and get it,” McKenzie said. “I know that means a lot to [Pittman] because he has wanted so much to leave a legacy and he has found a way to do that in speech and debate.”