Tarnished Glory

"Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of glory days."
Bruce Springsteen

Suppose you have in your grasp that one moment of glory - that supreme accomplishment that you can cherish and relive forever. Now, suppose someone comes along and in that moment, shoots off his mouth and says ridiculous, cruel, and unkind things that utterly ruin that moment.

Now imagine that the asshole in question is you, yourself.

And there you have my high school debate career in a nutshell.

It's possible some of my high school classmates remember that we had a pretty good debate team. In my sophomore and junior years, El Dorado High School managed to finish at the top of the 4A Regional Debate Championships and qualify for State, finishing 3rd one year and 4th the next. Before our senior year, El Dorado was reclassified as a 3A school (there were 5 divisions then) which in some ways made it easier to go back to state and in some ways made it harder. Yes, the 3A schools were generally smaller in size and therefore weaker in quality, but there were a lot more of them and in competition, the cream rises to the top.

The 8 schools in the Ark Valley League spanned the top three levels of classification and that year, the league sent five schools to State - one in 5A, two in 4A, and two in 3A. And over the course of the season, El Dorado beat all of them multiple times. That year, we could have qualified in any division. As it was, we took first at the 3A Regional held in Valley Center and went on to State which was held at Washburn University in Topeka.

Debate at the State Championship level requires your school to send a 4-man team which consists of two affirmative debaters, two negative debaters, and two alternates. At regionals, we debated seven rounds over two days and at state, we debated nine. It was two rather brutal weekends against the best schools in the state. At the end of it all, we won the 3A State Debate Championship.

In the minutes following the final round, Coach Laurino ordered me to get all our gear over to the mini-van. Angie Moreland and I carried roughly 100 pounds of files and briefcases and books with us that weekend and hauling that clear across the Washburn campus looked a bit daunting so I complained. He told me to get some of my teammates to help me. I asked some of them to do so. No, actually, I kind of ordered them and when they expressed reluctance, I kind of snapped, turned into a complete jerk, and said a lot of things I regret to this day.

In the days that followed, I had a lot of time to relive those moments and analyze what had happened to me. Debate can do things to your personality. It can make you combative and confrontational and can turn you into a superior-sounding jerk who tries to win every discussion, no matter what the subject. And I think it was starting to change me into someone I didn't want to be. But it took a rather spectacular verbal meltdown in front of friends to really make it clear to me.

It was not a proud moment. Well, not personally. In terms of the team and the school, it was pretty sweet.

Welcome to 1975 where PLAID RULEZ!

This group of four seniors, a junior, and a sophomore did a pretty good job. We debated sixteen rounds over two weekends. Two of us - Debbie Shafer and myself - debated every single round. Angie Moreland only took one round off during which Craig Ussery filled in. Brian Miller and David Knowles divided the rounds as Debbie's partners. And as far as State was concerned, we needed every round. We finished one win ahead of Abilene.

There was an awards ceremony in the main auditorium at Washburn. We got to go up onstage and receive the state trophy and our medals and as we filed off the stage, there was a line of college coaches and recruiters waiting for us. Within a minute of being handed that medal, I was approached by coaches from KU, K-State, Southwestern College, and Broward Community College in Ft. Lauderdale. No, seriously! I was offered two free years in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in exchange for debating for them. I spent a lot of the drive home hating myself. It wasn't pretty. But I managed to shake it off enough to share the moment with Mom and Dad. Coach Laurino went into the house with me to show them the trophy which was a cool moment. There weren't a lot of trophies on the Gibson family mantle (not that I got to keep the thing). Heck, we didn't even have a Gibson family mantle!

The next couple of months were spent dealing with three totally unique experiences for me. First of all, the debate squad got to make the rounds of the local civic clubs. We had lunch with the Kiwanis, the Jaycees, the Chamber of Commerce, and the entire zoo of Moose, Elks, Lions, and Eagles.

The second thing going on was the filtering of assorted college offers. I was recruited by dozens of colleges to be a part of their debate program. I could have gone to school in half the states in the US. I was offered a number of debate scholarships that I had to consider. I think I got offers from every 4-year and 2-year in Kansas as well as most of the Big 8 conference.

The third thing going on was some brutal self-examination. I did not like what I was starting to become. On top of that, I'd had a discussion with EHS debate alumnus, Dick Smith, on the differences between high school debate and college debate. In short, Dick told me that in high school debate is an extracurricular activity. In college, it is the main reason you are even there on campus. He warned me that it would be a major commitment: THE major commitment of my college experience.

And I wasn't sure I wanted that.

In March, Emporia State offered their top debate scholarship, The George R.R. Pflaumm, to Angie Moreland, my primary debate colleague. She deserved it. She was one of our two top debaters - maybe the top one - and had a much better GPA than I. In a rather rare move, Emporia offered their second scholarship - the Walter E. Meyer Current Affairs Scholarship - to me. I held the letter for two weeks, considering it and weighing it. Eventually, I got a phone call from Dr. Marvin Cox of the Emporia debate program.

He stressed that it was very unusual for them to offer both scholarships to one school, let alone a pair of debate colleagues. Further, he subtly implied that it wasn't easy to get approval to recruit someone with my modest 3.2 GPA. And somewhere in there, I realized that I just really didn't want to debate in college. I was done. After closing my high school career with sixteen straight wins, a regional championship, and a state championship, I was retiring from competitive debate.

I turned down the Meyer which kind of pissed off Dr. Cox. I turned down Broward, too - and in retrospect, that kind of pissed off me. I turned down KU, KSU, ISU, MU, OU, CU, Ball State, Wash. U, and Butler County Community. I even turned down Ottawa University, the school I eventually attended. I accepted their alumni scholarship for academics, but I passed on the $500 debate scholarship they offered me.

I was done.

Okay, actually, in my junior year of college I pulled a Michael Jordan and un-retired. I competed in several speech tournaments in college, winning trophies in individual events and I even tried my hand at a couple of debate tournaments. Dick Smith was right - those guys were on a fanatically different level of competition. They lived, breathed, ate, and thought debate 24/7. My final act in the world of competitive debate was a brief attempt at coaching.

Two college classmates who were studying political science, Chris Blythe and Dennis Greene, came to me and asked me to coach them briefly so they could experience one single novice debate tournament. Coach Twedt at OU didn't have time to waste on them so I took them under my wing and taught them every shortcut, dirty trick, and clever subterfuge that could be used to win a debate.

They finished second in that one single novice tournament.

It was a proud moment - the final one - of my long and generally boring debate career.

Somewhere, in the years after college, I lost my high school letter. The big 'E' I was awarded for debate had 17 medals hanging on it from speech and debate tournaments. I don't know where or when it disappeared and I haven't thought about it in years.

Bruce nailed it, as he usually does, when he sang, "And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it but I probably will." My mom saved all the clippings and photos from that experience. For her, it was all glory and I am glad of that.

In my case, however, I don't just think about that moment of glory. I think about the five debaters who shared that moment with me; especially the two who did the most to make it happen - Debbie and Angie. And I think about the things I said and the people I hurt and the change it made in the direction of my life. And I think the person I hurt the most was probably me. I suspect it is probably right, in some ways, that I don't have that medal anymore. I don't need it.

Those glory days … they pass you by.