In March of 2010 Andrew Markoff accomplished a feat truly spectacular. But to speak of the present the past must be explained.
The Bronx High School of Science’s Forensics program was created in 1969 by Richard B. Sodikow. Eight years later in 1977, Bronx Science member Steve Gold graduated to became a legend, and record holder, with an astonishing 389 round wins. Today, The Bronx High School of Science has continued its Forensics excellence by being listed as one of the top ten National Forensics League chapters on a regular basis for the last few years. Most recently, the team took first in the Bobcat Classic at Byram Hills High School winning in Varsity Policy Debate, Novice Policy Debate, and Novice Lincoln-Douglas Debate.
Thirty-three years after Gold’s record was established, a new Bronx Science debater has taken the title of the Bronx Science debater with highest win count. A mere few weeks ago Andrew Markoff won his 390th debate round. Andrew is a senior and president of The Bronx High School of Science's NFL chapter. He has been a part of the Bronx Science Speech and Debate team for four years, competing mostly in Policy Debate (he ventured into Lincoln-Douglas Debate only twice). With the support and team-work of his fellow debaters Zack Elias and Regan Bozman (and others), Andrew has amassed 1,604 NFL points, helped Bronx Science win its first Harvard University Round Robin, and has been a National qualifier and NFL Academic All-American twice.
The Forensics Community has been fortunate in Andrew graciously agreeing to a phone dialogue, and in having exchanged a few words with Bronx Science’s head coach Jon Cruz.
ForCom: Steve Gold’s record has held for 33 years. It must have been legendary at Bronx High School of Science. Did you ever think you could surpass that record of 389 wins? Was it perhaps a goal?
Markoff: No, I never really considered a long term goal. Every round is its own struggle. I actually found I was close to the goal a couple of wins before I broke it. So it was a surprise.
ForCom: Did you go into that particular tournament differently or did you treat it like any other?
Markoff: I was nervous before, sort of like any big debate. But you get over it as soon as it starts and you act like it’s normal.
ForCom: After the 390th round, did you feel like you had won? If so, did that effect you for the rest of the tournament?
Markoff: I focused on the rest of the tournament after that round. I was confident. I never took for granted that I would win, but I was confident.
ForCom: What was your first thought when it was announced you had won your 390th round?
Markoff: It didn’t feel significant until later that night. I had a round after that one. But that night I sat down and thought about it. Each tournament is super important, but after that round…I knew that this will mean the most in the long run for the team’s accomplishment.
ForCom: How has your team, school, family, friends reacted to your accomplishment? You got a special assembly didn’t you?
Markoff: Mr. Cruz went crazy. He’s very good at promoting and making a big deal out of things. He’s great at making the school know about debate. He put together a party thing. The principal came. People not in debate even came. Parents came. I had people congratulating me at school. And my parents are proud of me.
ForCom: Any tricks you have for preparing for a debate? Anything before the round?
Markoff: Music. Always. Lots of music.
ForCom: What kind?
Markoff: Bad hip-hop songs and rock. Anything that gets you excited. Getting ready for a tournament, make sure you feel prepared. Before a big debate, my partner and I fist bump. Like, we’re going to rock this even if we’re not very confident. But most of prep is done before the debate; making sure you’re prepared even before a tournament. The best way to be prepared for a debate is to be prepared before the tournament.
ForCom: If you could offer one piece of advice to the Debaters out there, something that revolutionized your game, what would it be?
Markoff: There was a point where I was too into winning rounds, and if I lost I would get pretty upset. It consumed my life. All my debate coaches told me if you play only to win you will always be disappointed. If you embrace the possibility of losing then it’s more satisfying if you win. You will not be obsessed to win. Being prepared to lose is being more prepared in a way.
ForCom: What’s your approach for the remainder of the season?
Markoff: I have two upcoming National tournaments, so I have been non-stop working for the last 3-4 weeks. When I get home, I sit down to do as much work as possible to get as prepared as possible. I want to try to win one of the two tournaments; try for both. That would be a great way to go out. It’s very meaningful to try to work for those wins.
ForCom: How much of an influence have your team’s coaches been on you?
Markoff: Mr. Cruz, he’s the head coach and runs the whole team, he’s been like my guardian at school and my mentor not only for me but the team. If something goes wrong at school, even problems with a teacher, he’s there to help you. He’s the strongest advocate for debate anyone can ask for. He spends an insane amount of time raising money, advertising for our debate team, and trying to get funding so the team can go to nice places for competition. For example, the Freshman and Sophomores have Nationals in Atlanta. The plane reservations got messed up and all the tickets got canceled. Mr. Cruz wants the younger kids to go so he stayed up all night finding a bus to charter so they can go instead of not going. And David Marks, a Policy Debater , coached me a lot over three years. He talked about the debating to win advice I mentioned earlier. He gives the best life advice I’ve had from anyone.
ForCom: What are your future plans? College? Going to continue to compete in debate?
Markoff: Competing at the college level…possibly. I’m not sure where I’m going yet. But I would like to compete. It’s very rewarding so sticking with it is possible.
ForCom: Have you decided on a field of study though? Is it relatable to debate?
Markoff: Debate got me interested in politics, so something in politics or law would be interesting for a field of study.
ForCom: Well, I’m sure if you became a lawyer you would have a ton of people wanting you to defend them. Is there anything else you would like to say? It can be anything you feel people should know.
Markoff: One thing I tell others I’ve spoken with--people don’t give enough credit to the idea of this being a team activity. Not only with partners (like my main ones), but the team as a whole with their support and work ethic. They’ve been responsible for the hundreds of wins. I would not be as dedicated to debate if my greatest friends were not debaters. We’ve developed a relationship in and out of debate. I would have never persevered through the hard work without their support.
When Mr. Cruz was asked a few questions about Andrew’s success he had nothing but admiration-filled words.
ForCom: What has been your reaction to Andrew’s achievement?
Cruz: Andrew may well be the most humble competitor with whom I have ever worked. He deserves this honor. When I came to Bronx Science, the program was on life support. I have been so lucky to work with such a fine group of students in rebuilding the team over the last few years. Andrew's accomplishment is a reflection of both his own hard work and skill and the combined work and dedication of the team.
ForCom: Did you ever foresee this happening? If so, when did the thought occur to you?
Cruz: Those who know me know that I love debate history and trivia. I am very fortunate that our program's founder, Richard B. Sodikow, shares that love. When I took the reins of the team, Richard provided me with a large set of all sorts of records: a list of all of our program's alumni ranked by NFL points, a list of awards won over the years, and, of course, a list of the win counts of all debate alumni. More than 330 Bronx Science debaters have, since 1969, won fifty or more debate rounds. So, naturally, I began to add my own debaters to the list. It was clear from the start that Andrew was something special: he was an exceptionally gifted novice who began competing on the varsity level during his freshman year. It became clear to me last year that he would be in a position to break Steve Gold's thirty-three-year-old record.
ForCom: Share some insight into how the team and school reacted?
Cruz: We had a party in Andrew's honor, catered by Crumbs, a Manhattan-based bakery known for its delicious, oversized cupcakes. (They made a special cupcake with a "390" on it for Andrew.) The principal was on hand to say some very kind words about Andrew and about the team. The outpouring of support from our alumni was fantastic, and the accomplishment is being featured in our school's newspaper and yearbook. But word has spread beyond just the school: we were so flattered by the attention given to us by the National Forensic League, Planet Debate, and your web site, and we have been similarly flattered by the attention given Andrew and our team by local media.
Andrew Markoff certainly has managed to set the standard high for Bronx Science. It took thirty-three years for Steve Gold’s record to be broken, and it is impossible to estimate when Andrew’s conquest will be overturned by another dedicated team member. And though his accomplishment is stunning, after speaking with him I was reminded again that it is not only the individual that should be immortalized but the team. Forensics is a team endeavor. As Jon Cruz pointed out, 330 Bronx Science debaters have won fifty or more rounds since the team’s foundation. Bronx Science is a triumphant team that pushes individuals to brilliant levels of success, and those individuals turn right around and help their team without question. This team, and Andrew, deserves a triumphant conclusion to this season and years of future fortune.
Oh, and many, many oversized Crumb’s cupcakes to celebrate.