Tuesday, January 6, 2009

with his learner's permit in his pocket, he swerved, to avoid a porcupine, and drove straight into a large tree.

As a child, my family went camping at Pioneer Park on the shore of Lake Michigan. I remember once spending the better part of a day building a sand castle. When I went back the next day, eager to continue adding on to my fantastic creation, I found that someone had wantonly destroyed it. Although I had realized from the start that building sand castles is a very transient pleasure, and that weather would undo my labors very quickly, I was nonetheless very disappointed that my work had been purposely and needlessly wasted.

I learned this week that BYU has once again decided to kick down my sand castle.

There are few things that I am as unabashedly proud and excited about as the things I did for BYU Speech and Debate. When I joined the team in January of 2004, there were only a handful of people coming to the meetings. Clinton and Lee, the founders of the group, told me that the team was only quasi-official, that permission had been granted to form the club and debate on weekends, but that traveling or officially representing BYU was expressly forbidden; BYU had had an official CEDA-style team in the 80's that had been caught cheating before the team was disbanded. Of course, we did travel to tournaments and officially represent BYU, but we drove there in our own cars, paid our own admission fees, and rented just one hotel room for each sex, regardless of fire-code prohibitions or questions of comfort. With so much work to go around, I was given responsibilities from day one, whether it was to register the teams, find new fund-raising methods, or teach lessons on a current event that I had studied the previous week. I loved debate and spent hundreds of hours preparing, practicing, and discussing it.

After a few years, I had become the most senior person on the team. I had gone to every tournament twice, I had phone numbers for bishops in Wyoming that would let us sleep on couches while we were there for tournaments, and the improvements we had made to our fund-raising high-school debate tournament had made the venture profitable, which made it much less expensive to be on the team. All in all, I think I did a pretty good job of running the debate team and training the next group of kids how to debate well; we regularly won tournaments against teams with full-time debate coaches and school-funded transportation.

Despite my advice to the following generation of debaters to keep the team on the down low and to keep our rituals hidden from the BYU administrators, however, the team applied for and got funding through the political science department, started renting BYU vans to drive to tournaments, and published their successes in the Daily Universe for all to see. Then, after a BYU baseball player sued the school because he had hurt himself while driving to an away game, BYU cracked down and canceled all traveling clubs. The debate team's official status became the weapon that BYU used to dismantle it.

Although someone might someday reconstitute a traveling team or even successfully lobby the powers that be for permission to travel to tournaments, their labors will be their own. My contributions, and the sense of pride I felt in passing on a better-organized, more prestigious team is now gone. Someone was foolish enough to trust that BYU would let something beautiful, educational, and totally harmless survive. I only wish I could muster a sense of surprise.

And so I will admit my public defeat. I am not ashamed to pay maudlin tribute to something that shaped me so profoundly, and that I loved so much. I'm not going to moralize, nor will there be an afternoon-special-style lesson that will put this into a greater context. I knew that someone down the line would drop the ball and BYU Speech and Debate would die. Debate was mine. It still is. Maybe now even more than ever.