Deciding to stick with it
JCCC alumnus Tyler Kowalewski took a rather roundabout path to the 2012 national debate championship. That path started here at JCCC with an “accident” in enrollment and ended at Emory University amongst some of the best debaters in the country.
Kowalewski enrolled at JCCC in the fall of 2008 after a false start at the University of Kansas two years before.
“I didn’t spend enough time studying, so I decided to attend JCCC to get my grades back in shape,” he said.
He found a 100-level communications class, Elementary Debate 101. It would transfer back to KU, so he signed up.
Kowalewski thought he was signing up for a survey course that studied presidential debates and the art of rhetoric. “You can imagine my surprise when I learned I had accidentally joined the JCCC debate team,” he said.
So there he was, stuck amidst a classroom full of students who seemed to know what they were doing. “My first reaction was, ‘I can still drop this class and receive a 100 percent refund.’”
Yet as he sat in class, he changed his mind as listened to debate coach Terri Easley, associate professor, speech.
“Professor Easley’s passion and dedication she had for debate was so apparent I couldn’t help wondering what debate was and why she was so passionate about it,” Kowalewski said. “So I stayed in the class and debated at three tournaments that semester.”
His first debate tournament was only four weeks into the semester, and it was a tough one.
“Although Professor Easley had gone out of her way to teach us everything she could, debate is very complicated, and even though we were debating at the novice level, most of our opponents had more experience. My debate partner and I worked hard and gave it our best shot.” They finished with a record of 1-5.
Easley said Kowalewski worked hard to improve. “Tyler was a very ambitious student,” she said. “He started in the spring semester, which is odd, because people usually start in the fall, and he had no prior high school debate experience. We get a few of those each semester, but it’s still an oddity.
“He’s very competitive, though. He went from losing five out of six debate rounds at his first tournament to winning the Novice National Championship a month later,” Easley said. “It is just insane to be able to do that.”
That drive to accomplish stemmed from a conversation with a pair of “not-very-good winners” at his first tournament. “I asked them how much time they spent on debate each week, and the debater from the other team said 20 hours. I then decided I was going to beat them at the next tournament by working 41 hours a week for the next two weeks.”
Kowalewski transferred to Kansas State University in the fall of 2011. He said the work ethic, organization and perseverance that he developed while on the JCCC debate tournament helped him at K-State as well.
After a successful season at K-State, he qualified for the National Debate Tournament at Emory University – an honor extended to only 156 debaters in the United States.
“It was especially exciting for me because only six novice debaters like me made it to the NDT this year,” Kowalewski said.
Kowalewski and his partner finished in 35th place, the highest-place finish for any novice debater, he said.
He credits Easley and assistant coach Justin Stanley (now head coach) with his willingness to continue despite setbacks.“When competing in debate, I have reached several plateaus where I didn’t think I would be able to achieve more than I already had, but the perseverance to keep trying, working and practicing more and harder that I learned from Justin and Terri has stuck with me,” he said. “It brought me to where I am today.”