University Prep Academy Debate Team Wins First National Tournament, Ranks Seventh in the Nation

Debate team becomes first African-American team to win tournament, receives fourth bid to attend Tournament of Champions

Detroit, Mich. (March 4, 2014) – University Prep Academy (UPA), one of two districts in the University Prep Schools charter system, took first place at the 2014 California Invitational held February 15-17 at the University of California, Berkeley. Now ranked seventh in the nation by the National Debate Coaches Association, the UPA debate team is the first-ever African-American team to win the Cal High School Forensics Tournament.

“I could not be more thrilled to finally see these kids get the recognition they deserve,” said Sharon Hopkins, UPA debate coach. “They are truly inspiring and serve as a shining example of the rewards that come from hard work and determination.”

UPA High School seniors Rayvon Dean, Brooke Kimbrough, Deja Valrie and Christine Rogers competed in both the California Round Robin and the Cal Invitational, the largest competition of the debate season. Out of 242 teams, the UPA debate team’s Dean and Kimbrough were the last two students standing with a record of 11-2. The win earned them a ranking of seventh in the nation and a fourth bid to the esteemed Tournament of Champions (TOC), which will be held at the University of Kentucky on April 26-28.

“Winning the Cal Invitational with my team was an experience that I will, undoubtedly, never forget,” said Dean, who was ranked the eighth best speaker out of the 484 students competing. “I imagine there were quite a few naysayers that doubted we would make it this far, but not only did we make it, we now have the opportunity to represent UPA and the city of Detroit on a national stage; it’s truly an honor,” he said.

UPA competed in the ‘Policy Debate’ category, which features two competing teams arguing for and against a resolution that generally calls for change to federal policy. As is the norm for the category, the team uses a technique known as “spreading” (speed reading) to effectively compress as much evidence and as many arguments as possible into the constrained time frame of eight minutes. In addition to Dean and Kimbrough’s victory, teammates Valrie and Rogers also cleared the invitational elimination rounds with a record of 5-2.

“Despite how it is sometimes perceived, debate is not easy. It takes research, time, and an understanding of subject matter as well as facility for language and an ability to think on your feet. Not every student is a fit for debate,” said Hopkins. “But these kids have proven time and time again that they are just as good, if not better, than their counterparts from districts and school systems with far more in the way of resources.”

While the success of the team is inarguable, competing in a large-scale event such as the TOC comes with a significant price tag. Tournaments can cost upwards of $1,000 per student for travel, accommodations, entry fees and other incurred expenses. This cost structure often makes it harder for urban public charter schools such as UPA, to compete at the national level. The lack of resources, however, has not stopped the team from becoming one of the highest ranked in the country. Clearly hardwired for success, its members are determined to find a way to make it to the TOC but not without the support of the community.

“To date, we’ve raised $3,000 for the debate team from generous public and private donors,” said Margaret Trimer-Hartley, chief external relations officer at University Prep Schools, which oversees operations at UPA and its sister district, University Prep Science & Math. “While we could not be more grateful, one full year of a robust debate program requires $25,000. Obviously we hope to maintain the program and continue to send students to colleges like the University of Southern California where Rayvon Dean will start as a freshman next year, but we need the community to rally behind these kids and help us provide the resources they greatly deserve.”

For more information about the team’s progress or to find out how to support the UPA debaters, visit

About University Prep Academy (UPA)

A University Prep Schools (U Prep Schools) district, University Preparatory Academy (UPA) encompasses five Detroit-based schools including two elementary schools, along with both a middle and high school. UPA High School opened in September of 2003, as UPA’s first middle school students were finishing eighth grade. The UPA district offers students a private school education for a public school cost. Through a combination of individualized and expeditionary learning models, U Prep Schools students are afforded the unique opportunity to learn in an environment that extends education beyond the confines of the traditional classroom. Guided by a commitment to preparing students for the world around them, U Prep Schools foster a holistic approach to learning that is rooted in providing its students access, opportunity and experience. For more information about UPA, U Prep Schools or any of its campuses, visit