SOUTH LOOP — Anthony Adams should have known he'd take to his high school's debate team.
As a 9-year-old, he watched the presidential debates and realized that while he didn't want to sit in the Oval Office, "I wanted to be involved in politics, to do the arguing part."
The "arguing part" is something Adams — now a 17-year-old senior at Perspectives Charter Schools Rodney D. Joslin Campus in the South Loop — turned out to be really good at after joining the school's debate team last school year. So good that on Saturday, he'll be awarded the 2014 Richard M. Daley Leadership Award by the Chicago Debate League.
Since October 2012, he's never lost more than two rounds in the daylong tournaments in which he participates with a partner several times each month. He's the only finalist from Chicago competing against 22 other teen debaters for the title "Urban Debater of the Year" from the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues. That award will be announced next month.
"Anthony’s devotion to improving his debating aptitude is truly remarkable," wrote his English teacher and debate coach, Karen Sheehan, in her NAUDL nomination for Adams. "Based on what he tells me and what I have observed, Anthony spends more time researching and developing debate cases and strategies than anything else he does in his life."
"It may be a cliche, but Anthony lives and breathes debate," she wrote.
He's already feared by other teams, who have joined forces to take him down in the past.
"At one point last season we walked into three straight debates, and every single time the other teams went sprinting out of the room" to confer with other teammates or their coach when they saw that Adams was on the other team, Adams noted. He said that other teams have even shared their research against his team with other teams to help level the playing field.
"I had to change our arguments a couple times this year because someone gave everybody else a negative file. They did their research against our argument and then gave it to every team in the entire conference."
Long Nights Preparing
Adams lives with his parents and two brothers at 95th Street and Ashland Avenue in Beverly — a 50-minute commute from the school at 1930 S. Archer Ave.
That means on tournament days, he has to leave the house before sunrise to arrive on time for his team's 6:40 a.m. departure time.
He's usually pretty wiped in the mornings because he's "up until about 1 a.m. researching reports for debate most nights."
He estimates he spends about 15 hours a week on debate prep, outside of the twice-weekly, two-hour practice sessions the team holds in Sheehan's classroom. Between debate and his other activities, he's usually at school from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"If you've slept before a tournament, you're doing it wrong," he joked.
Adams doesn't keep his trophies. Instead, he keeps statistics for his teammates.
"That's not my job, but I think it's a useful tool for us," he said. He's the only student in the league to take up that duty himself, usually reserved for teachers, Sheehan said.
Despite the fact that some of his competitors have teamed up against him, he sometimes tries to put them at ease, especially the ones newer to debate, while other times ratchets up the competition.
"When we're waiting for a judge to come in, yeah, we could be trying to intimidate each other," he said, "or we could watch YouTube videos and hang out until we have to start debating."
He said he remembers his own first tournament, when everyone seemed to be "talking so fast I couldn't understand them, and the judges' decisions didn't make any sense to me."
As a result, Adams says he's made lots of friends in the Chicago Debate League's "A" conference, which includes teams from Amundsen, Senn, Kenwood Academy, Juarez and more.
His "rivals" are a duo from Senn — Adams uses air quotes to describe their relationship because before and after debate sessions, they keep in friendly contact, keeping tabs on where they might all end up for college next year.
Adams still isn't sure where he'll land, though "applications keep filling up my mailbox," he said. He's thinking of studying political science at Monmouth or Shimer colleges.
He looked briefly at Augustana and Eureka colleges but decided against applying.
"Augustana and Eureka cut their debate teams," he said. "So they're out."