Stratford debaters heading to national championships

Nation’s No. 1 debaters speechless at surprise send-off for national championships

lfabian@macon.comApril 24, 2013 

Words normally shoot quicker than machine gun fire from the mouths of Stratford Academy’s champion debaters Andrew Jones and Hemanth Sanjeev.

But the nation’s No. 1-ranked team could hardly speak after a surprise send-off Wednesday morning before they head to the national championship this weekend.

Hundreds of cheering students lined the walkway as the pep band played tunes popularized at football games.

The mild-mannered muscle mouths and academic jocks found it hard to describe what they were feeling as they high-fived the crowd.

“It’s sort of surprising,” said Andrew, a senior who has been the top speaker at two debate competitions across the nation this year.

He has accepted a full scholarship to Emory University.

Hemanth, his junior partner, has taken top honors seven times.

“I’m also speechless, basically,” Hemanth said after getting a chest bump from a classmate. “It’s really amazing that everyone came out and did this.”

For the first time in the school’s history, the debate team has earned the David P. Baker trophy from the National Debate Coaches Association that ranked them the top team in the country.

“It’s huge,” Principal Margaret Brogdon told a high school assembly that included a roast of the champs. “How many other (high) schools in Georgia do you know that can claim a national championship? Can you name me one?”

With competitions across the nation, the debaters do not have the fan base that Stratford’s sports teams enjoy at local games.

Teachers tease about never seeing their phantom students, who miss many days of class to travel to their tournaments but still have amazing grade point averages, Brogdon said.

She remembered Andrew spending part of his Christmas vacation at her dining room table finishing up his exams.

Debate coach Abby Schirmer said she knew they were destined to be stars when they made it to the national championships when Andrew was a sophomore and Hemanth was a freshman.

They performed better than juniors and seniors in the competition, she said.

“This is not something that just happened this year,” Schirmer said, with the team’s trophies lined across the front of the stage. “They’ve worked incredibly hard, and I’m so proud of them and so excited to take them to the tournament of champions.”

To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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