I went to Beyer High School in Modesto, Calfornia -- the house that speech and debate coach Ron Underwood built. Ron (now retired) is the most successful and awarded NFL (National Forensics League) instructor in history, he's the Mike Krzyzewski of his era, and I ran with his pack from 1994-1997. We travelled the length of California, up and down, wheeling and dealing, styling and profiling, from Crescent City to Long Beach, taking on all-comers in a series of various events -- of which we were almost always victorious. Ron knew just how to take talkative, self-assured, argumentative kids and focus them into competitive machines -- the speech and debate events were just what we needed to hone our skills and focus on breaking apart the arguments of others into little pieces. We knew exactly what we needed to do to win.
Towards the end of my speech days I dropped out of the actual debate part and focused on a number of oratorical events that didn't involve arguing. Some of my friends, however, would become even more entrenched in the debate scene -- to the point that it started spilling out of the Underwood room, and into the hallways. We would be sitting in English class and the teacher would make a statement, only to hear one of her students, a proud debate team member, challenging her authority. By the time our senior year rolled around, it became practically normal for some of my friends to pick a logistical fight over just about anything with most of our instructors. We became ballsy, we questioned everything, and it didn't end after we graduated. Almost twenty years later, I recognize those same tendencies in some of my old classmates I still keep up with; more importantly, I see that same argumentative vengence happening online -- on message boards, comment fields, and especially with whisky.
I took many great lessons from my tenure on the Beyer High team -- I still know how to command a room, maintain the attention of an audience, and maximize the potential of my incredibly loud voice. It was due to Ron's tutelage that I can do many of the things my job now requires me to do, and for that I am forever grateful. But, perhaps the most important lesson I learned came from analyzing my own motivation for speaking, and watching the behavior of my former teammates -- many of whom still look at life as something to be won, rather than enjoyed. You have to wonder sometimes: are people listening to what you say, or reading what you write? Or are they just looking for weakness, a hole they can expose, or a flaw in your logic that they can twist and turn into an advantage? I can always tell a former speech and debate member by their obsession with winning an argument and scoring points, rather than sharing ideas, being liked, or making friends.
But you can't really blame them. For years we earned accolades and awards for doing exactly that. It can be a shock when you realize life isn't a speech and debate competition. No one's handing out ribbons anymore for our abilities. Today many people just call it: being a prick.