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One of my favorite high school teachers, Dr. Oliver, approached me sometime in late 1973 at my rural high school in the McClain County farm community of Washington, Oklahoma, with an offer.
“Would you be interested in starting a debate team?” I recall him asking me after class one day. My partner would be his son, Kelton, a classmate. My family had recently relocated there a few months earlier from southwest Oklahoma City to escape the madness of forced bussing during the desegregation battles of the early 1970s, where I was forced to change schools. My father had other ideas.
I went from a high school class of about 300 at US Grant High School to 28, which mandated only two courses in all four years – English and Agriculture. Joining Future Farmers of America (FFA), 4-H, and helping raise a farm animal were expectations that weren’t an option at suburban Southeast High School, where I would otherwise be forced to attend.
Starting a debate program at a small rural high school that was more interested in farming and football was unheard of, but I quickly said yes. Dr. Oliver saw something in the city boy who did pretty well at FFA speech contests and was fascinated by watching Senate Watergate hearings on television. He always aired them during History class.
We entered a debate tournament that year and promptly went 0-4.
But somehow, the experience resulted in a couple of scholarship offers in Debate at two public universities in Oklahoma. Perhaps more importantly, it also helped inform the fertile and impressionable mind of a 17-year-old on the importance of preparation, communication, argument, and persuasion. It helped prepare me for a 40+ year career in journalism, politics, Capitol Hill, and corporate lobbying. And this blog, perhaps.