Top Speaker at the TOC: A History Of The Mark Shelton Award

This year marks the 40th running of the Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky. In the run-up to the tournament, we will be sharing several notes about its history here on The 3NR. First up: the top speaker award.

Since 1993, the top speaker award in policy debate at the Tournament of Champions has been named the “Mark Shelton Top Speaker Award” in honor of one of the most accomplished high school debaters in Kentucky’s history. Who was Mark Shelton? And why is the top speaker award named in his honor? Below the fold is an article from the April 1995 issue of Rostrum—”A Tribute To Champions“—that details his story as well as a complete listing of the past top speakers of the TOC.

“A Tribute To Champions” by Michael W. Shelton

The first place speaker in policy debate at the Tournament of Champions, hosted by the University of Kentucky receives the “Mark Shelton Top Speaker Award”. Although 1994 marked the second year during which this award was presented, many people still have little knowledge as to the background of the presentation.

Mark Shelton is best remembered as an outstanding high school debater at LaRue County High School, in Hodgenville, Kentucky, throughout his interscholastic career. A brief review of Mark’s career as a high school debater tells us much about why he is remembered as a champion.

Mark’s debate career was actually launched while he was in junior high school at Fairdale in Louisville, Kentucky. He started debating actively in the seventh grade. During that first year of junior debate, Mark began to establish himself as a champion. He and his partner compiled a perfect record to capture the title of “J.V. Champions” in the Louisville Forensic League. They also won the regional J.V. tournament among other honors.

In his eighth grade year, Mark made the transition to varsity debate. Mark and his partner won awards at over a dozen invitational tournaments during that year. In addition to competing at the National Catholic Forensic League Tournament in Detroit Michigan that year, Mark distinguished himself as the only junior high student to compete at the Tournament of Champions.

As a freshman, Mark continued to excel. After traveling on a difficult circuit in the southeast, which included tournaments like Emory University and Montgomery Bell Academy, Mark earned a number of distinctions in Kentucky. He again qualified for the NCFL Tournament, the Tournament of Champions, and he also made his first appearance in the final round of the state tournament in Kentucky. Additionally, Mark compiled an impressive 5-1 record, cleared, and earned a speaker award at the Tournament of Champions.

During his sophomore year, Mark competed in the elimination round debates at such national tournaments as Emory and Northwestern University. He also routinely earned speaker awards at these tournament. Mark once again qualified for both the NCFL Tournament and the Tournament of Champions. He also participated in the final debate at the state tournament, once again. Additionally, Mark won his NFL district tournament and competed in his first nationals at Northwestern, in Evanston Illinois.

Mark’s junior year of high school competition was by far the finest for any Kentucky debater. Mark and his partner won the CFL district tournament, the state championship, and the NFL district tournament. In addition to being undefeated at these three tournaments, Mark was also the top individual speaker at each.

In order to pursue a variety of other interest, Mark elected not to participate in debate during his senior year of high school. However, after five years of junior and senior high school competition, Mark had distinguished himself as a true champion. Mark had qualified for the CFL national tournament four times, NFL nationals twice, and the Tournament of Champions four times. He was in the final round of the state tournament three consecutive years, where he was also the top individual speaker each year. Additionally, he had won dozens of speaker awards and team honors at tournaments throughout Kentucky and the nation.

Although Mark did not debate at Northwestern University while he was in college, he did become one of the most popular judges on the highly competitive Chicago-area circuit. Mark continued to judge and coach high school debate throughout his college career and beyond.

A few years ago, Mark’s health become significantly impaired. That impairment did not stop him from maintaining his interest in high school debate. Indeed, only a matter of months before his death, Mark judged at the Glenbrook Nationals. Only a champion who truly loved debate would remain actively involved during such a trying time.

Mark passed away on January 6 of 1992, two days shy of his 30th birthday. Mark had earned the title “champion” for many reasons. He was clearly a champion based upon the results of his debate career. He was also a champion for continuing to pursue his interest in debate even as his health deteriorated. He was most certainly a champion because he provided guidance, assistance, and strength of will for his family, his friends, and many in the debate community.

A champion of Mark’s caliber can be remembered and memorialized in many ways. Designating the top speaker award at the Tournament of Champions, in his memory, is one of the best ways to remember Mark, to honor others like him, and to celebrate the values that he represented. There is certainly no better place to honor the person who most people will remember as the greatest of Kentucky debaters. The Tournament of Champions is the best occasion for quality competition that Kentucky has to offer. Additionally, the debaters who participate in the Tournament of Champions are people not unlike Mark. They have all earned the title “champion” at one tournament or another, and they all thrive on high school debate competition.

The debaters that participate in the Tournament of Champions represent many of the values that Mark held as so important. They all display commitment. They are not only committed to debate, but they are committed to championship debate. That type of commitment is characterized by an intensive “work ethic”, a love of new ideas and knowledge, and a thirst for the refreshing in interchange of intellectual expression that occurs in the best of debates.

Mark Shelton was obviously a true champion. Those who compete for the “Mark Shelton Top Speaker Award” are also champions. And, we can all be champions if we embrace and pursue the kind of values that Mark represented so well.

(At the time of publication, Michael W. Shelton was a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Kentucky.)

Mark Shelton Top Speaker Award Winners

The top speaker at the TOC was officially designated the Mark Shelton Top Speaker Award beginning with the 22nd edition of the tournament in 1993. The complete list of top speakers is as follows:

1972: Jeff Clark & Mark Foley — Marquette University High School (Milwaukee, WI)
1973: Mary Thompson — Hillsboro High School (Nashville, TN)
1974: Dave Ottoson — Wilbert Tucker Woodson High School (Fairfax, VA)
1975: John Bredehoft — Cardinal Spellman High School (New York, NY)
1976: Jeff Lorenzen — Soquel High School (Soquel, CA)
1977: Patrick Finegan — Lakeland High School (Shrub Oak, NY)
1978: Sandra Seville-Jones — Soquel High School (Soquel, CA)
1979: Herschel Goldfield — The Bronx High School of Science (New York, NY)
1980: Kevin O’Shea — The University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy (Detroit, MI)
1981: Lenny Gail — Maine Township High School East (Park Ridge, IL)
1982: Erik Jaffe — The Bronx High School of Science (New York, NY)
1983: Lyn Robbins — Montgomery Bell Academy (Nashville, TN)
1984: Stuart Rabin — The Bronx High School of Science (New York, NY)
1985: Mike Green — Lake Braddock Secondary School (Burke, VA)
1986: Jonathan Bines — Lexington High School (Lexington, MA)
1987: Michael Tomz — Winston Churchill High School (San Antonio, TX)
1988: Noah Millman — The Bronx High School of Science (New York, NY)
1989: Omar Guevara — Detroit Catholic Central High School (Novi, MI)
1990: Jon Brody — The Kinkaid School (Houston, TX)
1991: Stephen Andrews — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Alexandria, VA)
1992: Sinan Aral — Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA)
1993: Joshua Heling — Brookfield Central High School (Brookfield, WI)
1994: Dan Fitzmier — Martin Luther King, Jr., Magnet High School (Nashville, TN)
1995: Steve Lehotsky — Lexington High School (Lexington, MA)
1996: Dustin Marshall — Greenhill School (Addison, TX)
1997: David Harkin — Grapevine High School (Grapevine, TX)
1998: Geoff Lundeen — East Grand Rapids High School (East Grand Rapids, MI)
1999: Jake Foster — Head-Royce School (Oakland, CA)
2000: Ben Thorpe — Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA)
2001: Scott Phillips — Saint Thomas Academy (Mendota Heights, MN)
2002: Reuben Schy — Glenbrook North High School (Northbrook, IL)
2003: Justin Murray — Colleyville Heritage High School (Colleyville, TX)
2004: Jason Murray — Colleyville Heritage High School (Colleyville, TX)
2005: Tripp Rebrovick — Montgomery Bell Academy (Nashville, TN)
2006: Matt Fisher — Glenbrook North High School (Northbrook, IL)
2007: Stephen Weil — The Westminster Schools (Atlanta, GA)
2008: William Karlson — Stratford Academy (Macon, GA)
2009: Ross Gordon — New Trier Township High School (Winnetka, IL)
2010: Anna Dimitrijevic — Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart (Miami, FL)

Only twelve states have won a top speaker award: New York and Texas top the list with six and are followed by Georgia, Illinois, and Tennessee with four each, California, Michigan, and Virginia with three each, Massachussetts and Wisconsin with two each, and one apiece for Florida and Minnesota.

Bronx Science tops the short list of schools that have won multiple top speaker awards, having claimed the honor in ‘79, ‘82, ‘84, and ‘88. The only other schools to have won the award twice are Colleyville, GBN, Lexington, MBA, Pace, and Soquel.

Only three juniors have won the top speaker award: John Bredehoft in 1975, Matt Fisher in 2006, and Anna Dimitrijevic in 2010.

3 thoughts on “Top Speaker at the TOC: A History Of The Mark Shelton Award

    1. lulu

      Yea, as far as i’m concerned Herschel Goldfield from Bronx Science won the top speaker award and won the TOC in 1979…

  1. hg1979

    1. Four juniors have won the top speaker award, not three. Herschel Goldfield was a junior upon winning the top speaker in 1979.

    2. Goldfield and Berman also won the TOC that year.

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