This is a story I've wanted to tell him on a variety of occasions, and sometimes debate being debate means we greet each other positively in passing, offer cordial salutations and go on our merry way. It's one of the things about The Game that kills me- there are so many quality people in debate, but The Game asks so much of its participants that sometimes we don't treat ourselves (wellness) or each other (douchiness) the way we should. I want to place the blame for my silence squarely on my shoulders. I feel similar, right now, to the way I felt when Vince Binder was killed- I still remember him sitting at a table at the El Cortez, me walking off and saying, "I'll see you later," with full intention of seeing them again, and when I didn't get a chance to, I felt the blame fall on me.
For that, Tuna, I'm sorry. You should have gotten to smell the flowers I have for you, which means I should have given them to you earlier.
University of Central Oklahoma, November 1995. I'm debating for Missouri Southern, for Marlow and Ken D. I've just transferred to UCO to debate, as the bug was back, and following a fortune cookie that told my prospective partner "You need to make concrete decisions in your life. Don't Debate."- which in retrospect could have just as easily ended my debate career, but I digress. I'm debating in the midwest in CEDA in the mid 90's, which, in comparison to other regions in the country, was more difficult, faster (which sucked for me because, despite speaking quickly in normal conversation, not a skill of mine in debates) and more "technically proficient" than other regions in general, but much much stronger than that of the West Coast. I have also been forced to switch from a speech i'd been doing my entire life to a speech I'd literally NEVER done upon my arrival. This means I had the normal growing pains one has when they're learning something new (read: i dropped stuff in almost every debate). So I'm doing a new speech in a harder region that requires more proficiency and they can capitalize on mistakes better. Not sure how much you know, but that's a recipe to lose a lot of debates...so...we're in a debate at UCO against the University of Vermont (a guy named Jethro and his sister (i think) Annalei)- they're a pretty good team, ended up being in the semis at CEDA Nats that year. We're affirming, they run a World Government CP and in the 2AC, i make a monumental error (an omission of an argument that all the other arguments I made in the debate become irrelevant if I don't make- i guess my partner could have helped, but we were both pretty baked in these debates so there's that) and it costs us the debate, and in the process we take a pretty hellacious beating. My partner is a nice guy, so he just leaves and sits alone and sulks as opposed to yelling at me for messing up again, and I'm sitting alone in this room after my coach just mocks me incessantly about the mistake I made, and tells me he's gonna remind me of it forever (and if he reads this, i fully expect a call about forgetting to make the perm). So I'm not feeling my best. Actually, it's at this time that I'm considering an Exit Strategy- not from this room or this tournament, but from Debate in general, which means I could leave Joplin and take my Black Ass back to California...and an old man with a long beard walks in...i've never met the man. He asks me how i'm doing. I tell him alright, and that's where the conversation changes...
...He tells me he's Alfred "Tuna" Snider, the coach at Vermont (then it occurs to me this is the man that Bear Bryant told me about). I tell him who I am, and he asks what's going on again. I'm not really open in general, and especially with people I've never met, so most days (i mean really probably every day before and 99% since) I would tell him nothing, grab my stuff and bounce. But for some reason, I told him what was going on- how I was doing a new speech at a new school in a new region and things sucked, how debate wasn't really fun anymore, and how i could just go back to California, forget debate existed and get my degree like normal people. Losing sucks and if all we were going to do was lose debates, then I should just go back to Cali...then Tuna gave me the conversation that most of us have gotten: the value of the game.
He asked me if I liked debate, to which I said yes. He asked if debate had value other than wins and losses, and he asked me for a couple of examples. I obliged. He then asked me why it mattered if i won if i knew it had value absent the wins and i still liked debate...he reminded me that wins come but that debate is fun because it's hard, and that sometimes just because you lose doesn't mean you're losing...and then he told me to have a good day, to remember this was a 3-1 debate and that love for what you do matters more than how you're doing...and like that, he was gone, walking off with a guy that ended up being Gordie Miller.
I'm sure he doesn't even remember this conversation, as I imagine it was one of one of the thousands of conversations he's had with people. I'm sure that wasn't the first time he ever told someone the love of debate matters, and I'm sure it wasn't the last. And I'm sure I'm not the only one he's talked off the debate ledge. But I just wanted to say thank you, as i can't imagine what my life would be like if i walked away from debate in 1995, but one thing for sure: I'd not be married to my wife...who I met in debate in 2001...but I also wouldn't have gotten to "pay it forward" and remind kids, almost constantly, what you reminded me: that debate is more than wins and losses, that it's about Love. We spend a lot of time in heart-felt competition, and that Love has to be the key.
I wish I'd have told him this when I saw him last, in New Orleans. We should have had a beer and listened to some jazz on Frenchman. I should have told him this story then. But isn't that how it always is? It shouldn't be, and it doesn't have to be.
All we have to do is speak up.