Athens Review, Athens, Texas

March 7, 2013

First time in history

AHS senior receives National Forensic League’s highest honor

Jeff Riggs
The Athens Review

Athens — One Athens High School senior, and one only, has received the highest honor in the National Forensic League Speech and Debate Honor Society.

Christopher O’Brien said hard work is a major factor to achieving success in society, as well as in life itself.

“I work so hard because I guess, I see a lot of what you can get out of it,” O’Brien said. “It prepares you for all sorts of things.  If you are not a fan of public speaking, you get it in because it gets you out of your shell.”

O’Brien, who is still waiting for the physical award to come in his mail, was accepted in January into the University of Texas Austin, where he plans to either major in psychology or go into law school.

He believes debate initiated by the National Forensic League Speech and Debate Honor Society, is a “great opportunity for students.”

“It teaches you so much,” he said. “Everyone should have public speaking experiences, and debate competition offers that and a lot more.”

O’Brien’s Athens High School debate coach Nicole Yeakley, agrees with O’Brien, who is one of her prized students.

“The National Forensics League is a speech and debate honor society.  Actresses and actors and U.S. Presidents have been involved in it.  Hillary Clinton was in it,” she said.

Yeakley has been a head debate coach for the past three years.  Prior to that, she was an assistant coach for two years at Salado High School.

Yeakley said she knows O’Brien, and his caliber of student well.

“Chris is incredibly dedicated to this activity,” she said. “He’s in my classroom working on debate just about every day. I’m not surprised by his earning the award at all, since he has worked on this award so hard.”

She said distinction in the program is based on their competitive success over all four years of high school. She agreed that this is the first time this particular award has been awarded to a student of Athens High School during the school’s entire history.

She mentioned that she has other students in the lower grades that she believes work about as hard as O’Brien, and will achieve similar success during their senior year.

O’Brien’s stepfather, Don Tate, said the award is “amazing.”

“When I came along, he was 4-years-old,” he said. “All three of my boys have read books like crazy.  We used to spend $100 on books every time we went to the bookstore.  They sometimes read some of them before we got them home.”

One of Christopher O’Brien’s brothers, Michael O’Brien, works at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.  His other brother, Mathew O’Brien, is a sophomore at Stephen F. Austin University.

Before Don Tate suffered an accident that left him 100-percent disabled, he worked for Kroger’s grocery.  His wife, Christine, is currently co-manager of a Kroger store in Palestine.

“His two older brothers have always had good grades,” Don Tate said. “But Christopher has always had A grades.  He’s only gotten one B in his whole life.”

 His mother, Christine Tate, is also understandably very  happy for her son.

“I am just so proud of him.  He works so hard, and to the fullest for anything you ask him to do,” she said. “He is extremely smart.  He doesn’t have to do a lot of studying, and he makes great grades. He read at a very young age. And he loves history and research.  Christopher was always very studious, and just loves school.”

His mother said Christopher O’Brien played football for Athens High School a couple of years ago when they went to the finals.  When his brother Mathew also played on the same team, and finally went to college, Christopher went into debate.

“That’s what he really wanted to do,” Christine Tate said, adding that Christopher is fifth in his senior class with a 3.97 ranking.

In the last year of his public school experience, Christopher continues his work ethic, according to his mother.

“In his off time, he always wants to be in senior debate to help younger kids,” she said. “He could have slept, but he choses to help Ms. Yeakley. He works until 7 p.m. every day, and works every Saturday.”

She added that he is 64th in the state of Texas in debate.

The National Forensic League Honor Society recognizes participation and progress in middle and high school public speaking and debating activities as a means to meet Common Core State Standards in listening, speaking, reading and writing.

According to their website, “This nonprofit organization empowers educators with resources, fostering in students the ability to think critically, research persistently, articulate clearly and lead ethically in a democratic society. Since 1925, more than 1.4 million alumni have participated in the League, with more than 120,000 active members representing nearly 3,000 schools. The League awards more than $200,000 in college scholarships at its annual National Tournament, the largest academic competition in the world.”