Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chris Moncrief: 5th in America!!!

Kansas City, MO - Bronx Prep, Bronx Prep, where you at, where you at? This question resounded from the midwest back to the east coast in June, when Chris Moncrief achieved the ultimate goal of a forensics competitor to answer clearly and proudly: the NFL National Final Round! Chris performed on a massive stage for fourteen judges and over a thousand audience members while his performance was beamed live via the internet to another cheering crowd back home. Let's take a step back to see how this marvelous moment came to be.

Back in February, Chris competed at the NFL National Qualifier against other New York City students in Original Oratory - the forensics event that requires a student to write their own ten-minute speech and gives them the opportunity to speak their truth when delivering it in a competition. As a senior, Chris is a veteran orator - he had qualified for nationals in 2008 and 2009, so the surprise wasn't his appearance in Qualifier's Final Round - it was his second place finish (after winning first place at this tournament both year's prior). The finish still qualified him for nationals (the top three competitors moved on to represent NYC in Kansas City), but was indicator of the work still be done.

So, Chris went to work. Steadily, amidst all of the responsibilities that come with being an overextended senior, Chris found the time to work with his coaches and on his own to improve the text and delivery of his speech - a ten-minute treatise on the roles that we play in our American society. His work paid off in the form of a State Championship in April, followed by a third place finish at the CFL Nationals in May - the biggest tournament in the US, besides the massive NFL Championships.

In June, Chris left for Kansas City as Bronx Prep's only entry in the tournament. His goal: The Final Round. A national final round is massive deal. Finals of every event happen at a specific time (rather than simultaneously) so that the entire tournament can watch the best of the best compete for the title of National Champion. The round is streamed live on the internet and saved for posterity in the form of a DVD to be distributed throughout the country as an example of best of the best. Finals consists of only six students and after a 7th place finish in '08 and a an 8th place finish in '09, Chris came in hungry.

Most tournaments feature three to five preliminary rounds in one or two days, but NFL nationals is the biggest tournament of the year. Chris scorched through his six preliminary rounds before clearing through to the octofinal rounds and setting the pace for his other competitors. Not content with the top 60 in America, he walked, talked and looked like a champion, moving on briskly to the quarterfinals (top 30) and then the Semifinals (top 14). The crowd gathered as the tournament directors prepared to unveil the Final Round contestants. Suddenly, the sky burst open. The rain poured, lightning and thunder cracked and across the river in Kansas, in looked like a tornado was brewing. But inside, hundreds of excited teenagers held their breaths. Chris looked away as the sheet with the finalists was unveiled; then he looked up with confidence, saw his name, and the celebration began.

Finals at NFL Nationals was a whole other level - both for Chris and for Bronx Prep, who had never seen a student advance this far in forensics. Chris was required to be at the Kansas City Expo center for a mic check early in the morning the day prior to the final round to get a look at the stage - and the space (a massive convention center with room for the thousands of competitors and coaches that assemble for the final rounds). After practicing during the day and watching final rounds in other events in the evening, Chris went to bed knowing the next day he would compete for a national championship.

Meanwhile, back in the South Bronx, preparations were being made for the big day. Chris's final round was streamed live on the internet and his teachers and principal at Bronx Prep helped make arrangements to bring the school community together to celebrate his achievement. The entire middle school assembled in the gym as the projector and big screen were set up for the live feed of the final round. His friends, classmates and protoges looked on as Chris, in Kansas City, was escorted backstage before walking proudly to the center to deliver the biggest speech of his forensics career.

Chris delivered his final speech as a high school competitor with confidence, passion, grace and dignity. He won the admiration of a huge crowd as well as that of his competitors and walked off the stage with much to be proud of. Throughout the final days of the tournament he was approached by strangers who had seen his piece and wanted to offer their praise and congratulations.

That evening, Chris stepped to the stage one final time to find out where he had placed. For this blogger, there should have been no question - he was tops in the round and the best in the country. But this is a big country. Personal and regional preferences come hand in hand with the breadth and diversity that make the NFL National Tournament the biggest and best of the year.
The tinge of disappointment of not finishing first must be weighed against the long-lasting effects of Chris's remarkable achievement.

After returning to the Bronx from Nationals, Chris coached younger orators at an institute in Massachusetts before running his own Oratory Camp at the first ever Bronx Prep Speech Boot Camp. Between his work for his teammates over the summer and the lasting image he presented to the hundreds of younger students watching him on the big screen, Chris left an impression that will have major implications at the Bronx Prep Charter School and elsewhere. He put his school and his community on the map by stepping out in front of thousands to make his voice heard. And he showed the students at BP how much is possible with focus, passion, dedication and poise.

In his 5th place finish, Chris posted a victory for the ages. He showed thousands of people what a kid from the South Bronx can do; and he showed hundreds of kids from the South Bronx what it means to look, act and speak like a champion.

1 comment:

  1. This weekend we're seeing the first concrete evidence of the inspiring ripple effect Chris's passion and hard work have had on his community. We have twelve competitors representing Bronx Prep at the year's first big speech tournament at Yale University. Many of them are kids who were involved in the boot camp Chris led over the summer. The night before the tournament, the team gathered in the hotel parking lot to chant the mantra that Chris and his fellow leaders created over the summer: "What do we love? We love to speak/ What do we speak? We speak our truth/ What is our truth? Our truth is to be the change we seek/ How do we change? We change with work/ What is work? Work is love made visible."

    Flame on, Bronx Prep Speech.