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  Trial, Error, Terror, and a Happy Ending
By Emily Younger
 

We were star-crossed lovers . . . made for each other, but fated never to be together. It put me in anguish. Sometimes I looked aimlessly at old photographs, remembering happier times, fantasizing about what might have been. Sometimes, in utter despair, I would lie on my bed and cry. They were tears of self-pity. Others could; I couldn't. And there, in the midst of my misery, a vision came to me. Although I could never again be so close to my beloved, I could devote my time and talents to the beloved's service, help others to experience the wonder I had known in that short time. The sting of eternal separation was made more bearable as I returned to the haunts of old, cloaked in obscurity, but once again near to what I loved. And in time, joy returned - not the thrilling joy of first love, but the quiet joy of contentment.

It's been two years since law school enrollment ended my short sojourn as a debater. It was a bitter end. Debate was unlike anything I'd ever known. It required thinking, working, synthesizing arguments and articulating them. It was everything I had always enjoyed doing, and stretched me in ways nothing else would have. But, the LSAT was behind me, the law school enrollment papers were in the mail, and I was stuck to the law school plans like gum to a toddler's hair.

Still, stuck or not, there had to be some way for me to stay involved in debate. Depressed and disappointed, my partner Brenden and I mused over our options. Then, in the style of Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering, we were struck by inspiration. My younger sister Rebecca, in the style of Eliza Dolittle, was struck by shock. But it was such a perfect plan. Substitute Rebecca for me, give her a whirlwind course in campaign finances, name me "coach," and voila! we could [almost] have our team again. Primarily clueless about debate and the topic, Rebecca reluctantly agreed. 

After much work on Brenden's part (all a coach had to do was watch, right?), the day of the tournament came, and, sure enough, Rebecca looked perfectly professional, and not stressed at all! In her own words, "No, I wasn't worried. I was like a trained dog. You take the dog to the show, and it does what you trained it. Brenden told me what I'd have to say, and all I had to do was say it." And that's just how it went. Robotically, Rebecca did as Brenden said. She never brought up anything new, but she never contradicted him, either.

Then came the sixth round. That's where I learned that the Taking-Little-Sister-Hostage method wasn't the panacea I'd anticipated. (Note: the following is the account of events as I remember them. Due to anxiety and the tinted vision of nasty older siblings, this account may not be entirely accurate.) It was just before lunch on Saturday, and hunger and fatigue were giving rise to restlessness. Bec and Brenden were negative, a fact that made us all slightly more tense. Still, up until the end of the 2AC, the round had a pleasant, almost jovial feel. Looking put together, as always, Bec rose to speak. In a decisive, epitome-of-the-debater tone, she began. "I don't believe the affirmative team's plan is topical." She proceeded to explain - "explain" in the sense that she repeated the statement "It's just not topical" several times, all the while looking earnestly at the judge. Brenden and I exchanged nervous looks. Two minutes went by. Still wearing her most sincere face, Bec was delivering something like the tenth possible permutation of the phrase, "It's just not topical." 

If nothing else, you had to give her points for creativity. Another minute went by. Everyone in the room was shifting in his chair. Brenden looked like he wanted to sink into the floor. I wished Bec and I could communicate telepathically. Finally, with the grand finale, "This is worst speech I've ever given, and I'm just going to sit down," Rebecca went back to her seat. The affirmative team was dumbfounded. Brenden was examining the ceiling intently - so intently, in fact, that it took him most of the rest of their prep time to remember he was supposed to finish the negative block. 

Although Bec and Brenden went on to take fifth place in that tournament, I found that the hostage approach wasn't satisfying my desire to debate. Not only that, but watching it was too frustrating. Then, in July, Mrs. Moon (at that point still a lady I hardly knew) asked me if I was interested in spending the fall traveling in a 31' motor home with her family, whom I hardly knew, and four other teenagers I didn't really know, either. It took my parents until September to come to the same conclusion, but, I thought, here was the chance of a lifetime! After being certain that my debate career was over, here I had the opportunity to join the CFC staff and spend a couple months eating, breathing, and sleeping speech and debate. At least, that's what I pictured. In fact, we ate quite a few things besides debate, and didn't sleep much at all (we did breathe, though, unless we were having holding-your-breath contests - what else do you do in long, dark tunnels???). 

The tour left me more eager than ever to have a real debate club. I had some idea now of what wouldn't work. The hostage/dog training method wouldn't work. Watching and wishing something good would happen wouldn't work. Hopes high, I began my publicity campaign. Within a few weeks, a group of happy homeschooling moms was delivering the passengers of their happy homeschooling vans to our house for two hours on Friday afternoons. It seemed like the ideal setup for a blossoming debate club. But, instead of producing the sought-after happy ending, that next season only showed me more things that wouldn't work. Weekly lectures to a group of sleepy-eyed, indifferent students didn't work. Forcing uncommitted, unprepared debaters into tournaments didn't work. Begging and pleading didn't work. Nothing I tried worked. The club tapered off until it was my sister and a bunch of bored boys whose moms just wouldn't stop bringing them.

A big transition was in order. And, in August, in a whirlwind of Thane, an Uno bar, body surfing, wrestling, Wendell, and catchy nicknames, it came. We entered a disjointed jumble, and came out a club. The change was so great and so sudden that, recently, while orienting a new recruit, my debater boys divided our club history into the BT (Before Thane) and AT (After Thane) Eras. They were in awe of Thane. And they were in awe of Wendell. This sense of corporate admiration brought them together, gave them a common frame of reference, and made them think more seriously about competition. At long last, I was convinced that I had reached the pinnacle of my non-debating debate experience, achieved the status of true coach-hood . . . Boy, was I wrong.

While my debater boys' curious reverence for their patrons from the forensics world initially impressed and amused me, it paled in comparison to a vaguely similar phenomenon I witnessed at the CFC Masters conference in January. It was the David Graham Phenomenon (for those of you interested in framer's intent, I imagine the words "David Graham Phenomenon" in a gory, sickly green font, to be read with creepy sci-fi music playing in the background) . Anyone reading this should have a good idea of what I mean. At times, it seemed that David's students were acting under hypnotic influence. Thane was named a hero. David was christened a demigod. Wendell had admirers. David wore a halo. Whatever this strange veneration thing was, I knew then that my boys only had a mild case - and all aimed at instructors that had been only brief visitors to our club. What did it all mean? And where did I fit in?

Back home, I told my debater boys about the condition of their debate brethren in San Diego. One of them, Andrew, listened especially attentively. When I had finished, sounds of general disapprobation were uttered throughout the room. Then Andrew spoke. "You know, I can see liking Thane and all, but - " his nose crinkled in disgust "this? I mean, you're definitely no goddess."

After surviving the long evolution of our club - the few thrills of victory and the abundant agonies of defeat - I wouldn't trade my club for anything. They motivate me to research issues, study theory, and, most of all, give me someone to cheer at tournaments. Still, there are those rare moments when I'm tempted to think . . . maybe trained dogs aren't such a bad idea.

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