Oh, how I remember my days on the speech and debate circuit.
Near the end of my 8th grade year, the high school sent a registration packet to my house, and I sat at the kitchen table and poured over all of the upcoming educational opportunities that waited in the hallowed, asbestos coated halls of Sprague High School. The course catalogue, more than any of the preparatory speeches my middle school teachers gave me, convinced me that high school was truly a much bigger deal than I had expected. No more fucking around with homeroom and arts and crafts – in high school, shit was going to get real.
There was a series of classes devoted to teaching the art of auto repair, which took place in the school’s dedicated garage, wherein students used highly dangerous power tools and tinkered with donated cars. The classes were called “MECH TECH”,* because in the fast paced world of auto repair you just don’t have time to say whole words.
*I’m reasonably sure Mech Tech X was the name of a Japanese giant robot fighting schoolgirl porno game.
There were the CAD – or ‘Computer Assisted Drawing’ – classes, wherein, to my knowledge, students just sort of fucked around with computers all day. I had plenty of friends who took these classes, and they all regaled me with stories of the crazy, gross pranks they pulled on each other while spending large amounts of unsupervised time drawing pictures of houses and cars with computers.
There were the Seminary classes, wherein the Mormon kids got to go to the little LDS church next door to the school and do basically the same stuff the CAD people did, only with the Book of Mormon instead of computers.
And then, there was a class called “SPRAGUE FORENSICS”, and for whatever reason, that was the course code that I copied onto my registration sheet.
In retrospect, maybe I was unaware that ‘forensics’ is also the name for speech and debate – perhaps I thought I’d be spending my afternoons crawling through blood spattered tenement murder scenes with a blacklight in search of ever elusive semen. Lord knows that would have been more enjoyable than Algebra II.
Public speaking, much like the Academy Awards and ice dancing, is one of those events that probably shouldn’t be competitive because in most regards the judging is, at best, arbitrary and based on personal taste. Sure, it’s usually clear who won in a debate round, because those are competitions between two people. However, I did not do debate, particularly because I have a lot of difficulty walking into a room knowing I’m going to have a fight with someone.
I competed in the soft-pitch individual events, primarily After Dinner Speaking, which is pretty much six minutes of stand up comedy. So imagine judging that – who’s the better comedian? Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Murray, or Conan O’Brien?
“Oh,” you whine. “They’re all good in different ways!”
Well, competitive public speaking doesn’t work like that. You have to decide which one is best, no matter how hard or completely random that selection may be.*
*Of course, it’s easy to pick the worst: Jay Leno.
Regardless of how I did in the competition, the speech tournaments themselves were always interesting. Many of the skills necessary for success in public speaking were also taught in high school drama programs, the result being a few hundred drama kids crammed into an empty high school on a weekend, along with a roughly equal number of reserved, well read, and usually Asian public policy debaters. There were also a handful of guys like me who were only there because they wanted to win trophies for telling stupid jokes.
The personality clashes were always a lot of fun to watch, as well as the comingling between drama kids from different schools – who, I am convinced, are without a doubt members of one of the randiest high school subcultures. My senior year, one of my friends on the speech team made out with at least one girl at every tournament he went to – in some cases two (but never, apparently, at the same time). Say what you will about speech people being nerds; at least we were nerds who made out with other nerds.
I bring all of this up again because this weekend I judged at the University of Oregon debate tournament, at the request of my high school speech coach. Being at a debate tournament again really brought me back – legions of high schoolers clad hastily appropriated and often mismatched formalwear, drama students pairing off and going in search of dark corners, debaters earnestly reading political science books and trying to forget that they’re in high school.
My school’s speech team now is almost entirely bereft of people I know, save for a few seniors who were freshmen when I graduated. Two of them are Zach Johnston and Kehl Van Winkle, whose name I promise I did not make up. Both of whom made a point of asking for a shout out in my next blog, which is not normally the sort of thing that I do, but my word count was running low and I’m short on ideas at the moment. Let’s just move on to the conclusion, shall we?
I usually make a point of saying that while I hated high school, band and speech team were what made it worthwhile. But taking a second look at speech team, I realize that while it was a great time that supplied me with plenty of experiences I’ll never forget, it’s definitely not something I’d do again. I can’t say I miss spending hours and sometimes days sitting around a high school or community college cafeteria, wearing a $30 blazer (which would later make its television debut on Writers) and waiting for yet another round of sketchily judged competition.
That said, I’m sure that if I had been the one pairing off with overly aggressive drama girls, my opinion on the matter would probably be very different.
Truman Capps sometimes goes into these blog entries thinking they’ll be more relevant than they actually are.