On April 19, 2021, Strake Jesuit junior Zion Dixon won the Tournament of Champions (TOC) on a 2-1 decision. The TOC is hosted by the University of Kentucky and is widely considered to be the most competitive and prestigious high school debate championship tournament in the country. Not only did we have 13 students qualify for the tournament, but Zion also became the first Strake Jesuit student to win the TOC and is now the top high school debater in the United States.
“Honestly, it is hard to believe. Weeks after the Tournament of Champions it still hasn’t completely set in with me yet,” said Dixon.
Zion came to Strake Jesuit originally intending to be a football and track athlete but decided to give debate a try. The concept of debating political and real-world issues always interested him, and after his freshman year, he decided to focus on debate so that he can better achieve his goals.
“Since my freshman year, Mr. Crist, Coach Castillo, Josh Porter ’20, Joey Georges ’21, and Ben Erdmann ’21 have been coaches, role models, and mentors. They have all pushed me to set goals for myself that I didn’t think I was capable of and then surpassed those goals. They each taught me how important hard work and leadership are for my success and the entire team. Josh has been an amazing mentor to me as an African American debater and allowed me to feel confident when I had doubts. This year, Ben, Joey, and I have each had very successful years, mainly because of friendship, teamwork, and hard work. Hard work and talent can produce individual success, but the level of team success we have had, including closing out numerous tournaments, is due to the culture of leadership, teamwork, and friendship we have on the team.”
“Zion has been an amazing role model and teacher for each of his years on the team. I knew he was special at the start of his freshman year,” Head Debate Coach Jerry Crist said.
During his freshman year, Zion had no problem qualifying for State. For many years, we did not have freshmen qualify. Most schools never qualify freshmen. Not only did Zion make it to State, but he became the first Strake Jesuit debater to clear the elimination rounds as a freshman.
Josh Porter ’20, who is now at the University of Texas at Austin, personally mentored Zion during his time at Strake Jesuit. “I consider Zion a dear friend, and I have been his mentor since his freshman year. I believe it is very rare to find someone like Zion who has so much tenacity in striving to be the best competitor. He often worked late in the night perfecting cases and doing drills to become a better speaker. I’m glad that I got this opportunity to be the mentor and friend of someone so admirable,” he said.
As a sophomore, he earned seven bids to the TOC and was named a TOC Top Speaker. While preparing himself for competitions, like Josh, he mentored the freshman class of debaters. He welcomed them with open arms and helped them develop their fundamental debate skills, such as case writing, argument structure, and rebuttals. The team’s current group of sophomores are incredibly talented, and they thank Zion for his leadership and mentorship during their freshman year.
“Debating with Zion was always a great experience as his work ethic was something that inspired not just his peers/underclassmen, but the older debaters as well. I enjoyed debating with him and sharing successes with him – we co-championed the Lexington Winter Invitational, and I always loved seeing him beat debaters of all grades/levels with no struggle due to his hard work and preparation,” said Georges ’21.
His success this year as a junior is unprecedented in the history of the program. At the Texas Forensic Association state tournament, he was the top speaker and co-champion with teammate Ben Erdmann ’21. He also received the top speaker award at the Harvard Debate Tournament, the Barkley Forum hosted by Emory University, and the Heart of Texas Invitational hosted by St. Mark’s School of Texas. And now, he is the TOC champion.
“Going to tournaments and camp with Zion for the last few years has been amazing. He’s an integral part of the team, and his example encourages all of us to work harder. One of my favorite experiences has been seeing Zion win state, Harrison, and TOC back-to-back, and I’m sure he’s going to keep tearing it up next year,” said Erdmann ’21.
While Zion’s wins and successes are impressive, the skills he’s learned from debate have been instrumental in his daily life.
“Debate has taught me so many lessons and skills that I can take away once I leave debate. In school, it’s taught me the value of work ethic and given me the skills to read, write, and research things effectively and efficiently. It has given me awareness of political and social issues around the world. It has also taught me things that help in my daily life, such as speaking up for myself or the value of intellectual curiosity. Lastly, it has taught me little things, such as navigating through airports or large college campuses without my parents,” Dixon said.
With junior year coming to an end and senior year on the horizon, Zion is the most accomplished debater in the history of the Strake Jesuit Debate program. Not only does he work on improving his own skills, but he is also committed to helping his teammates succeed as well. Jerry Crist said, “He is humble and an excellent ambassador for the team and school. He exemplifies what it means to be a Man for Others.”