2017 Debate Nationals

The Experience:

Adventurer Jr. II had a successful regular season and was selected to participate in Middle School Nationals in Birmingham, Alabama from June the 21st to 23rd.

Day One: June 19th, 2017

Adventurer Jr. and his partner got all their cases ready last night. He went to swimming from 9 to 11 am this morning. I took him to get a new belt for his suits afterward. Also, I bought him a pair of sunglasses and slippers because we were heading to Alabama. The sunglasses turned out to be unnecessary because he was mostly indoors.

His partner forgot to bring a book and asked him to fetch it. We thought we could do that on our way to the airport. Around 3 pm, I was notified that our flight was delayed to 7 pm from 6:30 pm.

We went through security check and walked to Southwest Airlines around 5 pm only to find out that our flight was delayed even further to 7:40 pm. Looking at the flight forecasting board, most flights were flashed as canceled in red, some were delayed and not many were still on time in green. I communicated the change to our coach who drove down to Birmingham on Sunday already. I also told him not to pick us up as planned. We’d use Uber because I didn’t feel comfortable with having him going to the airport so late in the night. He rescheduled the observation session to tomorrow afternoon instead of morning, which turned out to be a smart move. I contemplated what to do if our flight ended up canceled.

Finally, our plane departed at 8:30 pm. We were so relieved that it didn’t get canceled. The plane arrived in Chicago around 9:30 pm. We were told not to get off the aircraft. There were five of us heading to Birmingham.

When we finally arrived in Birmingham, it’s almost 12 midnight local time. I used the Uber app and quickly located a driver. To get to our hotel, the driver had to drive past downtown. I saw Wells Fargo had a flagship building in downtown. Our driver told us that it’s the largest bank in Birmingham. The downtown wasn’t magnificent as it only had a few high rises here and there. Not many cars were out, the ride took more than twenty minutes. After we got our luggage from his car, I gave him some tip even though he never helped us with loading and unloading our stuff. He was very appreciative of the extra cash.

Alabama local time was 1 hour behind our time, i.e., our time 1 am would be 12 midnight Alabama central time. After checking in, we retired to beds. Our room was next to a busy street and I had to endure the traffic noises all night. Adventurer Jr. II, however, wasn’t disturbed.

Day Two: June 20th, 2017

I had a terrible sleep due to the heavy traffic right outside of our windows. It didn’t affect Adventurer Jr. II, however. After eating free continental breakfast, I asked the front desk whether we can move to another room, but there were no two-queen beds available until Thursday night.

Around noon, we walked for about 10 minutes to Shops of Colonnade near our hotel. It was raining previously and the roads were wet. There’s still a little drizzle, but we didn’t mind. We passed many other hotels and enjoyed some views along the way.


Pond by a hotel

Pond panoramic

Pond panoramic near Shops of Colonnade

We ordered two BBQ pulled pork jumbo sandwiches carry out as lunch for AdventurerJr. II at Jonny Rays. I opted to skip lunch. Pulled pork was one of the special foods in Alabama and he liked it.

BBQ pulled pork jumbo sandwich was filled with pulled pork

BBQ pulled pork jumbo sandwich was filled with pulled pork

After lunch, his partner and her grandparents arrived. Grandpa had to drive them to Carver HS to observe an elimination HS round in the afternoon. Grandma stayed with me in my room because they couldn’t check in yet. We just talked on any subjects we’d think of. After grandpa dropped them off, he stayed with us for a little bit. Then they went to check in. They got a suite and there’s no noise.

Our coach asked grandpa to drive the three of us to The Westin at Uptown Birmingham later in the evening and he would drive Adventurer Jr. II and his partner there as well. We’d check in for their event there and meet at the Jefferson Convention Complex premier entertainment district for a “posting party” afterward.

Grandma and I talked during the ride. She also invited me to have lunch together the next day. I was planning on fasting but agreed.

When we arrived at Westin, they weren’t there yet. We sat in the lobby and looked around. It’s very spacious with fancy chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Many students were there. Later, Adventurer Jr. II, his partner, and our coach came. It’s chaotic and we didn’t know what to do but following them. Our coach told us to go into the gift shop while he was in line in another room to check them in. There were t-shirts, mugs, pins, etc. related to Speech and Debate. We took a look but didn’t buy anything. Grandpa was annoyed by all this and went to the bar to get a drink while grandma and I were waiting in the gift shop with Adventurer Jr. II and his partner for the coach to come to get their pre-ordered t-shirts.

After all that was done, Adventurer Jr. II had to go with our coach to his car to get his suits and dress shoes because I had left his debating apparels with the coaches before they drove down to Birmingham last Saturday to keep them as wrinkle free as possible. It turned out that our coach forgot to put them in his car, and they had to go back to his hotel, Sheraton, which wasn’t far.

While we were waiting at the Jefferson Convention Complex, where the posting partying was taking place, grandpa was trying to search for a place to eat via his phone. Our coach told us there were food trucks at the posting party, but grandpa would rather go to a sit-down restaurant because we needed to pay anyway.

Jefferson Convention Complex. There was loud music while the posting party was going on to the left.

Jefferson Convention Complex. There was loud music while the posting party was going on to the left.

Finally, Adventurer Jr. II was back with his suits/shoes. We all got on grandpa’s car and headed to The Cheesecake Factory. I paid for the parking with cash and left the $7.5 change with grandma. There were constructions going on in downtown and detour signs everywhere after we got out of the garage. It’s difficult to locate. Grandpa was irritated and lost his way. He decided to drive us to the Shops of Colonnade near our hotel. We got here around 8 pm.

Passing downtown

Passing downtown

We picked Taziki’s Greek Fare for dinner. It’s a fast-food chain selling Greek foods in the Southern part of the States. We ordered and paid our own. Then grandma told me that she ordered an appetizer for us to share.



The appetizer had three hand-rolled grape leaves, stuffed with rice, onion, and special herbs. The cost was $5.49. Grandpa ate two of the grape leaves, and grandma had the other one. Since she told me that the appetizer was for sharing, I didn’t want her to feel bad, so I tried a piece of hard pita with the dipping sauce.

My lamb gyro with fruit

My lamb gyro with fruit

My lamb gyro was really good. The meat was tender and tasty. Adventurer Jr. II had a chicken gyro.

We went back to the hotel after dinner. Adventurer Jr. II and his partner spent some time organizing their cases before calling it a day.

Day Three: June 21st

I had a terrible night again. We rose early because grandpa didn’t want them to be late and he wasn’t sure how bad the traffic would be. They were ready at 6:45 am. I gave my iPhone to Adventurer Jr. II for the competition days because he needed to track the time during debate sessions. We all got in his car. Huffman HS was about twenty minutes away on a normal traffic day. There was a traffic jam right before we supposed to turn. The drive was rather smooth. The school wasn’t in a ghetto, which was a good sign. It was all brick, big and grand. A much better school than our HS. We hugged and wished them good luck.

After we got back to our hotel, I went to the cafeteria for breakfast. As I was eating, grandma came and asked if I’d like to take a walk together. I hurried to finish my food while carrying on a conversation with her.

We walked almost the same route as I did with Adventurer Jr. II yesterday. We talked for the entire walk. When we got back to our hotel, I fixed myself a cup of tea and went into my room.

At 10:35 am, our coach sent an email update out. I realized that Adventurer Jr. II and his partner were by themselves for rounds 1 and 2 this morning. Our Coach would arrive at Huffman HS at 12:15 pm to judge for an MS Congress chamber when Adventurer Jr. II and his partner would have rounds 3 and 4 in the afternoon.

We met in the lobby at 11:45. Grandma asked my preference for lunch. I was fine with anything. It was drizzling with light rain. We decided to eat at The Easts Cafe.  The parking lot at the Shops of Colonnade was full. Grandpa pulled in a space next to a Van. My mind was occupied by thoughts of how they might have performed in their first two rounds. Grandparents came out of the car first. After grandma passed my door and walked to the back, I opened my door mindlessly and touched the Van next to us. I closed my door and heard a lady’s voice inside the van. The driver, presumably her husband, came out and checked the contacting spot. There was a little discoloration. I used my fingers to rub the area. The man did the same thing too. I apologized. Then the man said that I could go. I said thank you and wished them a good day. I turned around, no grandpa and grandma. I walked towards the doors of The Easts Cafe, saw them went in then came out because they just realized that I wasn’t there. They asked me what happened, I told them the incident.

We were led to a table next to a front window. We sat down and ordered Pho. I had a small beef Pho, grandpa had a big beef Pho, and grandma had a big chicken Pho. We talked while watching the rain outside. We were expecting text messages from them to let us know how did the first two rounds go. But we got nothing and grandparents didn’t want to disturb them by texting first.

Grandparents said that the Pho was a little different from what they had eaten when visiting Vietnam. The rice noodles were thinner.

The waitress asked whether it’s on one check or separate checks. I didn’t want to say anything. Grandpa said on one check. Then she came back and I put my credit card on her tray. Grandpa had his credit card out too, but I was closer to her and was able to get mine in first.

Our coach called a team dinner at Newk’s Eatery at 6 pm and asked us to all meet there. Our coach drove Adventurer Jr. II and his partner there after round four at Huffman HS.

Newk’s was sort of like the fast food place Taziki’s but serving different foods. Adventurer Jr. II got Margherita Pizza, and I had Turkey sandwich with Cole Slaw. I didn’t really like the foods there and had my second half uneaten sandwich packed to go.

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza

Turkey sandwich with Cole Slaw

Turkey sandwich with Cole Slaw

Our coach gave a little speech and asked every parent/student to talk a little bit during dinner.

Afterward, we went outside for team pictures. I joked that our one High School and two Middle School debaters were like celebrities and the parents were like the paparazzi.

Instead of driving to our hotel directly, grandpa took us to Shops of Colonnade in search of ice cream. We couldn’t find any ice cream shop and finally settled at Mooyah for shakes.



Grandpa was buying as his way to apologize for last night. Adventurer Jr. II and his partner each got a Big Moo, grandpa got a Moo to share with grandma. I didn’t want anything. We found a table outside to sit down. The Moos were loaded with sugars and calories. Adventurer Jr. II couldn’t finish his so I helped him. His partner couldn’t finish hers either. Grandma asked them to give updates throughout the day tomorrow to keep us informed.

By the time we were ready to go back to our hotel, it’s 8:30 already. They worked on it a little bit more before going to rooms.

Day Four: June 22nd

Our coach came to pick them up @ 7:20 am and they got there later than 8:00 am. Good thing that they were in second flight as they did yesterday. Their first round was at 9:00 am instead of 8:00 am. Our coach would judge for two rounds of MS PF this morning when Adventurer Jr. II and his partner would have rounds 5 and 6. After that, there’s a long wait for “break”.

I sat at the high counter for breakfast. Later, grandma came again. We talked while I was eating my breakfast.

After I was done, we went for a walk again on the same route. When we were back, breakfast was still being served.

A little after 10 am, Adventurer Jr. II’s partner texted grandma that they had finished round five but felt they lost. We texted them encouraging words to keep them going for round six.

We met up at the lobby at 11:45 am again for lunch. I told grandma that I wanted to check grandpa’s car door to make sure that his car had no damage. I opened it up, looked very carefully and didn’t see anything. Grandma wanted to try something Alabamian, we went to Jonny Ray’s. Grandpa said that he was buying. I took the deal iff I’d be buying for dinner. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw and fried okra for under $9. Both grandparents had the same order with different sides. Adventurer Jr. II and his partner should have finished their morning rounds already. We were anxiously waiting to hear anything from them.

After getting back to our hotel, I asked the front desk whether my new room was ready. I was delighted to learn that I was moving to the other side of the building. It didn’t take long for me to get everything moved to the new room on the second level. The new room was in the exact same layout as the old one equipped with the same type of TV, little fridge, microwave, etc. but quieter.

Then, grandma and I took another walk to kill time. I told grandma that I didn’t see any damage to grandpa’s car. Grandma said it’s usually the other car if there’s any damage. I sat on the high counter with a cup of tea after we were back to our hotel. The “break” was scheduled to happen at 2 pm. Grandma sat with me. Time seemed passing so slowly. We decided to go back to our rooms to take a nap.

We didn’t get any news of “break”, but there’s a tornado warning instead. The students were all in the safe area of the school. Our coach was with them.

Not sure how long time had passed, I heard knocking on the door again. It’s grandma with “break” news! I opened the door, nervously asking “Is it good?”. Grandma pretended to have no emotion showing on her face. Then she said that they broke. Upon hearing the news, I couldn’t help but jump up and down. We laughed and hugged. We were so happy for them.

Then grandpa called grandma and asked where she was at. Grandpa showed up in my room as well. Our coach had texted grandpa asking him whether we’d like to watch the round. After deliberating, we decided that it’s best not to disturb them. We declined to observe.

Later, grandma knocked on the door telling me to get ready because we needed to go to them immediately. They had won round 7. After we got in the car, I asked grandparents whether the kids were good with us being there because I didn’t want to jinx it. Well, we’d no choice because our coach was leaving them to attend his awards ceremony.

We saw them at Huffman’s cafeteria. They were getting ready for round 8. We sat in the room to observe. I was impressed by their performances. They won 3-0 and had achieved national top eight status.

They advanced to round 9. But lost 1-2. There were many things that went amiss in this round. First, some observers were coming in and going out of the room while the debate was in session. Some observers were taking notes with their laptops and chatting softly. Adventurer Jr II’s opponent team was attacking Adventurer Jr. II and his partner personally at the end of the debate in desperation by saying that they were cheaters on their hard pieces of evidence. In my honest opinion, any person or team doing that shouldn’t be allowed to win. There were three judges in the round. The judge sitting in the middle didn’t know how to fill out a ballot, which indicated that this was her first round judging in nationals. First, how could a novice judge be placed to judge in Nationals’ quarterfinals? Next, the same judge was incompetent because she was looking at another judge’s ballot and asking for her opinion. It just so happened that judge voted for PRO and she went with it. Basically, she wasn’t able to reach a decision on her own. The third judge who had 35+ years of experience said that the PRO team had to deal with Adventurer Jr. II’s team’s hard numbers for next round because these numbers won’t go away and she voted for Adventurer Jr. II’s CON team, which spoke volumes. Adventurer Jr. II and his partner were not happy with the final result, and I was upset, but we decided to leave and not make a scene there.

Unfortunately, their nationals ended one day early. Despite not continuing on to semifinals, we still would celebrate their achievements at their first nationals. They wanted to eat dinner at The Cheesecake Factory near our hotel. Grandpa drove us there. The restaurant looked grand and it had a huge bakery showing area at the front. The interior reminded me of Las Vegas strip buildings. We had to wait for a table and it’s almost 9 pm. We killed time by contemplating which cheese cake to get later.

Our server, Paul, was taking orders shortly after we sat down. For drinks, Adventurer Jr. II had frozen iced mongo for $6.95, grandparents had 2 bottled carbonated water for $3.95 x 2 = $7.9, Adventurer Jr. II’s partner had lemonade for $3.95. For the main course, Adventurer Jr. II had Thai coconut-lime chicken for $12.95, I had crispy pineapple chicken shrimp for $12.95, Adventurer Jr.’s partner had basil tomato flatbread for $6.95, grandma had skinny grilled salmon for $18.5, and grandpa had carne asada steak medallion for $14.95. The foods were good. My phone was out of battery and I couldn’t take any pictures. No one had any appetite for cake after the main course despite me suggesting several times. Adventurer Jr. II and I packed our leftovers.

We headed back to our hotel. I could finally have a good sleep, hopefully.

Day Five: June 23rd

We met up at the breakfast lounge. I was bothered by the judging situation in round nine and felt that Adventurer Jr. II’s team should’ve advanced to semifinals today. I brought the subject up to grandma several times. She was annoyed that I repeated the topic. What I didn’t tell her was that both Adventurer Jr. II and his partner’s parents had paid $200 each of judging fee. After a light breakfast, Adventurer Jr. II’s partner and grandparents were ready to leave. We hugged and wished each other well.

Our coach drove to our hotel to pick us up. He asked us about the last round because he wasn’t there due to his award/banquet ceremony. After telling him what had happened, he said that he would’ve protested had he stayed.

He took us to his hotel where he and the HS coach shared a room. We packaged everything in his car. The four of us would leave Birmingham today. But first, we’d visit Vulcan Park in the morning.

It didn’t take long to get there. Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and forge. We took the elevator to the observation area of Vulcan Tower. It was windy up there.

Vulcan Statue

Vulcan Statue

Birmingham, AL seen from Vulcan Tower

Birmingham, AL seen from Vulcan Tower

Another view from Vulcan Tower

Another view from Vulcan Tower

Then we spent some time in the Vulcan Center to learn the history about Vulcan. Adventurer Jr. II liked a t-shirt in its gift shop, but they didn’t have his size.

Our coach wanted to have lunch at Pizitz Food Hall. Adventurer Jr. II ordered Burrito Chorizo, whereas I got a taste of Alabama with Goat Cheese, Pecan, and Honey biscuit at Alabama Biscuit.

My Goat Cheese, Pecan, and Honey biscuit

My Goat Cheese, Pecan, and Honey biscuit

There were big bottled water dispensers placed in the Pizitz Food Hall. We didn’t buy any drinks and took advantage of that instead. There was a gift shop in there as well. Adventurer Jr. II got a t-shirt and proudly changed to it before we headed out.

Our next stop was Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex before leaving Birmingham, AL. BJCC was the place for the awards ceremony scheduled at 4 pm, where Adventurer Jr. II would be recognized on stage. But we decided to leave before that because our coach’s wife wanted him to go home early. Our coach made arrangement to have the trophies mailed to our school.

The venue where awards ceremony would take place

The venue where awards ceremony would take place

We were heading home at 3 pm. The two coaches sat in the front. They would alternate on driving. Adventurer Jr. II and I sat in the back.

Passing Tennessee River

Passing Tennessee River

Our coach was able to get his mobile phone to show the live stream of Middle School Awards ceremony. We learned that Adventurer Jr. II and his partner ranked seventh!

Apollo 13 in Kentucky

Apollo 13 in Kentucky in the rain

Our coach wanted to drive through the night to get back to his wife sooner. I had no problems with that.

We stopped at a MacDonald’s for dinner. Adventurer Jr. II and I ate the leftovers from last night. They were still fresh because the coaches packed them with iced bottled water this morning.

Our coach mentioned that he had a phone charger that he acquired right before Y2K. Amazingly, it’s still working properly after seventeen years. He would let us all plug to it because everyone’s phone was pretty much out of power. And we made a good laugh on what was supposed to happen in Y2K.

Passing Cincinnati at midnight

Passing Cincinnati at midnight

We took several cat naps while the coaches were talking to stay awake. They dropped us off first. Finally, I was sleeping in my big comfy bed.

Financial Implications: Would’ve Cost: $1,312.32; Actual Cost: $610.32

  • Adventurer Jr. II Booster contribution for Nationals: $200
  • Adventurer Jr. II two lunches on tournament days: $9 x 2 = $18
  • Adventurer Jr. II Nationals T-shirt: $14
  • Adventurer Jr. II belt for pants: $10
  • Adventurer Jr. II Nationals suits dry cleaning fee: $15
  • Adventurer Jr. II National snacks: $80
  • Uber: would’ve cost $25; actual cost: $3
  • Uber tip: $3
  • Jonny Ray’s lunch: two BBQ pulled pork jumbo sandwiches: $13.18 on June 20th
  • Downtown Westin parking: $10 ($2.5) on June 20th
  • Taziki’s Greek Fare dinner: $19.78 on June 20th
  • Lunch at the Easts Cafe: $38.92 on June 21st
  • Dinner at Newk’s Eatery: Margherita Pizza and Turkey sandwich with Cole Slaw: $16.15 on June 21st
  • Dinner at The Cheesecake Factory on June 22nd: $85.1 + tax $8.5 = $93.16 + 22% tip at $20.59 = $114.2
  • Vulcan Park admission: $10
  • Lunch with Goat Cheese, Pecan and Honey at Alabama Biscuit in the Pizitz Food Hall on June 23rd: $8.79
  • Lunch at Choza Taqueria in Pizitz: Burrito Chorizo $9.9 on June 23rd
  • Birmingham t-shirt for Adventurer Jr. II: $26.4
  • Hotel at Country Inn for 4 nights: would’ve cost: $280; actual cost: $0
  • Airplane tickets one way for two: would’ve cost: $400; actual cost: $0
  • Trip back home: $0, got a ride with the coaches. The car was reimbursed for mileage and gas by the school.

General Impressions:

  • We didn’t go to many places when we were there, but for a little town, the traffic was horrible at rush hour in Birmingham.
  • People seemed nice
  • Our hotel was located in an affluent part of the town and the restaurants there were not cheap.
  • Our hotel was in a hotel zone along with other hotels and all were fully booked due to Speech and Debate Nationals.
  • Since the area was affluent, it’s safe. We took several walks during our stay.
  • Alabama is a heavily Taxed State: State Tax 4%, Jefferson County Tax 2% and Birmingham Municipal Tax 4%. The total is a whopping 10% taxes!!! And they were surely applied to all my restaurants and t-shirt bills. For a visit, it might not be such a big deal, but if I were to move there, my wallet would surely get a huge hit.

Lessons Learned:

  • No going to posting party anymore. Our coach can check in for the contestants.
  • Many PF teams had the same partners working together for many years.
  • The coach should stay in the room for as many rounds as possible.
  • Contestants should leave a pen and paper out at the end of a round to write down judges’ recommendations.
  • Observing one round of the HS PF debate gave them a chance to see how a debate went at nationals.
  • US workshop was very helpful, whereas Stow wasn’t as helpful.

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