Not Liberty. For the second time in three years, Michigan State won the collegiate National Debate Tournament championship. After starting the year with a win at the Wake Forest tournament, they had to beat Wake Forest in the finals and they emerged with a 6-1 victory. Congratulations to Will Repko and Mike Eber, the head coach and director of the MSU debate program, and to seniors Ryan Burke and Casey Harrigan. I’ll have more later when I return from running some errands this morning.
I can’t tell you how proud and pleasantly astonished I am to see how successful Will has become as a college coach. When I first met him he was a sophomore in high school and, frankly, a mediocre debater. I started coaching at Okemos high school and he debated for East Lansing, just a few minutes away. I had debated against his older sister for 4 years in high school. And at that point, Will just wasn’t that good at debate.
A mutual friend of ours commented a few months ago that he can’t remember ever seeing someone improve so much from the beginning to the end of their senior year in debate and I agreed. In one year, Will went from being a mediocre debater to being one of the best in the state almost instantaneously. His partner was his younger sister, Biza, who would prove to be an even better debater eventually. She went on to be a national champion college debater as well.
After graduation, Will began coaching his old high school in debate and turned them into a powerhouse program almost immediately. A few years later he moved up to the college ranks with MSU and did the same with them. Now MSU is a perennial participant in the late elimination rounds of national tournaments, a two time national champion and Will has once been named Coach of the Year. He has brought Michigan State up to the level of traditionally great debate schools like Harvard and Northwestern.
Incidentally, he also tried his hand at stand up comedy after high school and he could have been very good, but he was too devoted to coaching to put all his energy into it. But he was very, very funny (and he was there the night that I made an audience hate me for wondering aloud when Michael Landon would die without knowing that he had died that morning). And after not speaking to each other for many years, we reunited a couple years ago due to our mutual love of poker (I walked into a poker room and there he was). So in an odd way, we’ve always had almost identical interests and aptitudes.
After we’d reestablished our friendship, Will told me that he had made a list some years back of the 15 people that had been the biggest influences on his life and that I was on that list. That made me feel very good. I see what he’s accomplished now and I feel like an older brother watching his younger brother do everything he did, but about 1000% better. He’s an hell of a guy and I couldn’t be more proud. Congratulations to Will and to everyone involved in the MSU debate program for their monumental accomplishment.