B-E-L-I-E-V-E … and blessed

Sometimes life crawls by at what seems like a snail’s pace.  Other times, it flies by faster than the fastest fighter jet. The last few days have been the latter.

On Saturday, I was honored to take 13 students from Revere High School to the Akron District Littles tournament – a qualifier event for the Ohio High School Speech League State Championships.  Only nine of the 13 were real competitors.  The other four are “warm bodies,” or students who agreed to compete to help more students from Revere and other schools in the Akron district qualify for states.

This is a challenging tournament.  On average, only two of every seven competitors advance to States.  Revere’s students practiced and prepared ceaselessly last week.  (So did their coach; my mileage log has me going to the high school seven times, twice a day on two days.) One of my points of emphasis on year was P-P-P-P-P-P, proper practice and preparation promotes perfect performance.

It’s a nice encouragement, but perfection is nearly impossible.  So in notes written to each competitor, which I gave to them as they got on the bus on Saturday morning just before 7 a.m., I encouraged them all to give “practically perfect” performances in speech and debate.

Did they ever!

Revere had four State Qualifiers – junior Anthony Pignataro in Lincoln Douglas debate, sophomore Leah Espinal and Megan Warburton in Public Forum debate, and freshman Melise Williams in Informative speaking.  Another freshman, Victoria Liu, finished just one place away from being an Alternate State Qualifier in informative speaking.  For a growing program that has 20 newcomers and only five returnees with experience, this is phenomenal.

But there’s more.

At the Akron district, our co-chair made repeated request for more Public Forum debate teams, Revere entered a “warm body” duo in this event.  One of them, senior Megan Travers, had health issues and had left actively competing after just one tournament this season.  The other, senior president Drew Espinal, had never competed in a round of public forum debate in his life.  Megan had been in Public Forum more than two years ago.  Megan Warburton and Leah Espinal loaned them cases. We didn’t have high expectations: We were helping out the Akron district, and thought that Megan and Drew might win one or two rounds.  Sure enough, they lost round one of the six-round tournament.

Then, something clicked with these two, and they began to rock.  They won, and won again, and won still again.  In round five, they opposed a 4-0 team, and emerged victorious yet again. They ended up with four victories – good enough to qualify for States as a debate team – before withdrawing after round five due to Megan’s work  schedule.  Drew had previously filed a form to represent Revere in Congressional Debate, so their performance doesn’t “count” for qualifying purposes.   But Drew and Megan’s outstanding debating proved the point I’ve been telling my speakers and debaters, that sign on President Ronald Reagan’s desk – IT CAN BE DONE.


Three of our qualifiers:  L to R: Leah Espinal, Megan Warburton, Anthony Pignataro

One more person from Akron is going to States in Humorous Interpretation and in Informative Speaking thanks to our other “warm bodies.” So, all in all it was a very satisfying tournament for a small but absolutely amazing bunch of good, talented, hard-working students at Revere. They are all winners, but in particular I’ve never seen two sophomores as outstanding in PF Debate as Leah Espinal and Megan Warburton, and never had a freshman who is as coachable as Melise Williams.  I’m blessed to be able to work with this terrific group of students.  Here’s a link to our program’s web site:


So Sunday, I’m resting up and devoting only about four hours to emails and communication to our State-bound speech and debate contingent, which will travel 230 miles to Cincinnati for the OHSSL State Championships on March 4-5.

Then yesterday, I was fortunate to be a combination tour-guide and discussant with five visiting journalists from India.  They are in Cleveland as part of a U.S. State Department program. The Cleveland Council on World Affairs, an outstanding non-profit that promotes education, citizen diplomacy, and public dialogue on international issues, is hosting these journalists.  Here’s a link to this organization:


We began with a stop and an hour-long chat in the Liberal Arts area of Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro campus.  My colleague Professor Neeta Chandra provided an ample supply of refreshments and beverages to our visitors, and we discussed the mission, vision, and challenges of teaching at a community college.  A couple of the journalists quizzed me about the future of journalism in the United States, and we had a fascinating discussion about the future of newspapers, hyper-local news, and other aspects of the profession.

From there, the visiting journalists went to Tri-C’s Advanced Technology Training Center, where we met with Workforce and Economic Development Director Nancy Feighan and her staff.  The journalists got to see several of our manufacturing and trade skills areas, and finished there seeing a couple of high school robotics teams in action.

visiting journalists
Finally, our visitors camped out for a while at the Center for Creative Arts at the Metro campus.  We got a brief look at some production studios, and they concluded by sitting in on a newswriting class which my colleague Tammi Kennedy teaches.  It was a well-done overview of Tri-C, and I’m happy about at how well Neeta, Nancy, and Tammi represented our college.  Special thanks to Katie Ferman, program officer at the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, for reaching out to Tri-C and including us on this itinerary.

Later today I meet with Phil King (the real Dr. Phil, as he helps so many students succeed), principal at Revere High School, as we discuss details about taking eight of our student to Cincinnati for three days.

Zoom  …  I have been operating on over-drive for the last few days, and I’m on sabbatical.

*    *    *    *   *

Imagine a 29-year-old guy who has suddenly hit the wall of failure at a high rate of speed.  He’s been fired from a very prestigious job in the U.S. Senate. He’s doing through a divorce, and he doesn’t even have a place to live.  He doesn’t know if he should continue his future in Alaska, where he moved with his ex-wife three years earlier, or his hometown of Cleveland.  What will happen next?

That’s an easy story for me to complete.  Because the 29-year old was me … 30 years ago, in 1986.

Soon we begin Lent, a 46-day period leading up to Easter during which some Christian faiths call for self-denial, repentance and atonement. Lent has a special meaning for me, because Jesus picked me up on the trash heap of life 30 years ago, dusted me off, and put me on a much better path than I ever could have imaged or deserved.

Simple suggestion for you – if you believe in God, why not spend Lent by devoting 10 to 15 minutes every day to reading God’s word, the Holy Bible? There are thousands of Bible reading plans out there. Here’s a link to the plan I’m following from my church, Cuyahoga Valley Church.


Come back soon for a story about a great athlete who showed the world selflessness, determination and excellence in the face of unbelievable adversity – Jesse Owens.

Thanks for reading.

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