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Monday, November 17, 2008

Fact Check: Errors in Friday's MDL on Mundt Debate

As discussion continues over the fate of the Karl E. Mundt Debate Tournament, let's take a moment to address some errors contained in Friday's front-page Madison Daily Leader article on Madison High School's desire to end its support of the contest:

1. [reporter Elisa Sand] "But since its inception, the tournament has continued to grow...."

I have competed at, judged at, or helped direct Mundt for 15 of the last 20 years. I have not seen any constant upward trend in entry numbers. Entry numbers have ranged between 400 to 450 over the past five years.

2. [MHS principal Sharon Knowlton]: "...there are very few places that can handle it at the size it presently is. It's too big."

It hasn't been too big for the last 41 years. One town smaller than Madison thinks it can host. Harrisburg looks at hosting not as a strain, but an "excellent opportunity."

3. [Sand citing Knowlton]: "...the district makes a point not to schedule classes that particular day."

On the Friday of the tournament, the district has usually scheduled an early release so that classrooms will be available for competition by 2 p.m. Classes are scheduled, just shorter. The day still counts as a full school day.

4. [Sand]: "While the elementary school facility technically is available, Knowlton said that using the facility would put more of a strain on the maintenance staff that is already tapped out with cleaning and locking up the high school and middle school Friday night."

Doesn't the elementary have its own custodial staff? And how tapped out are they from cleaning up after hosting eight home basketball games?

5. [Sand]: "While talk is beginning to circulate that Madison wasn't planning to host the tournament after the 2009 event, and there's speculation that support is no longer there for the tournament, Knowlton said that couldn't be furthest from the truth."

If "that" refers to both preceding dependent clauses, the statement is incorrect. That "talk" beginning to circulate has come from Coach Renee Nills herself, who notified South Dakota debate coaches that 2009 is the last year MHS is hosting Mundt. Coach Renee Nills has said in e-mails to me that "Yes, the Mundt will no longer be hosted by MHS," and "Our building (MHS) would not continue to be used as a site for the Mundt." Note that three paragraphs later in the Friday MDL article, DSU President Doug Knowlton says [Sand's words] "representatives from MHS have approached the Mundt Foundation about discontinuing their support."

6. [Sand]: "Before securing a seat as U.S. Representative for South Dakota in 1938, Mundt was already president of the National Forensics League, a position he held for 25 years."

Mundt was elected the second President of the National Forensic League during the 1932–33 school year. He served in that position for 40 years, right through his entire career in Washington, until his resignation during the 1971–72 school year.

Now those are just the factual errors. Note also that Principal Knowlton appears to have missed a main argument from the original blog post on Mundt: If we want to keep Mundt in Madison, we can't downsize it. Coaches want their kids to have as many chances to compete as possible. Scaling down Mundt is like telling basketball teams that they can only bring their starters, no bench or JV. Teams won't come to Madison for a smaller Mundt. They'll go to a tournament and a town that can find the resources to host a full tournament.

If I missed any errors (or made any of my own), the comment line is open! Fire away... and let's keep Mundt in Madison!


  1. Cory, why does this upset you so much?

  2. Anon 10:22,

    I can't speak for CAH, but I'm offended by this on multiple levels.

    First, CAH is right that there is quite a bit of history here. This is a staple of the debate scene. This would be equivalent to the administration saying that MHS will no longer sponsor a homecoming football game.

    Secondly, their position for elminating the tournament is pathetically weak. They are basically saying that it costs too much. I posit that the cost of the debate program and the tournament are minimal in comparison to any other sport team. Additionally, the debate program does have some academic merit while sporting programs do not (note, I'm not saying sports are bad; I think they are good. But if something has to go we need to cut non-academic programs first).

    Third, if Coach Nills is advocating no longer sponsoring the program, she should have been fired on the spot by the administration. A coach needs to be a program advocate. If not, it's the administration's job to find a new one. This leads me to believe that the administration isn't pulling their weight here.

    Lastly, the Mundt tournament is a co-sponsored tournament. Other schools put on tournaments and foot the bill entirely. MHS is catching a break on the costs of having a tournament and they are still complaining.

  3. Anon: does the answer to your question matter? I'm not the story; keeping the Mundt tournament is. Reread my original post, where I made very clear why all of Madison should be "upset" at the prospect of losing this great event. The short form: Mundt, Madison, debate, education. Need any other reasons?

  4. This shows what is wrong with our schools. Athletics first and outstanding scholastical events like this come last. Drop one basketball, volleyball, golf tournament, tennis tournament and then you should have enough money to pay for any extra costs. They could drop football altogether especially after the declining number of kids participating in that sport and there dismal achievements on the field.

  5. Come now...what does this have to do with sports? Please don't make this into this sort of argument. This has nothing to do with athletics. Please stay with the point of this discussion and keep anti-sports talk out!!

  6. Anon 6:29:

    This has to do with sports because both debate and sports cost $$$. No one here is advocating that sports are bad. If one has to go, why are we choosing the less academically centered of the two?

    The only argument the administration has made is that the tournament costs $$$.

    And let's be clear, both athletics and debate are in the same category: extracurricular activities. There is no debate vs. sports category. The only question should be which of the programs enhances the academics provided by the school.

    Is it your position that sports are more advantageous from an academic standpoint than debate?

  7. How exactly does the tournament cost money? Other schools pay entry fees to compete in the tournament, they bring their own judges or pay the tournament to hire them, etc. Concessions are sold to generate additional revenue as well. The only real costs are the trophies and the utilities for leaving the lights later Friday night and on Saturday.

    I'm sure Cory has a much better idea of the actual costs of the tournament, but I'd be surprised if MHS is spending much at all out
    of pocket.

    Matthew Paulson

  8. Good point, Matt. I haven't seen the books lately, but in the 1990s the tournament was mostly self-funding. Sponsorship from the Mundt Foundation and entry fees cover most costs (trophies, judges, etc.). Some years there'd even be money left over, and we'd put that money in a special fund to cover expenses for sending Madison's qualifiers to Nationals. FCCLA uses concessions as a fundraiser for its activities. Salary for running the tournament is included the debate coach's pay for the season.

    And actually, unless I've misread the comments from Coach Nills and Principal Knowlton, MHS hasn't cited money as a reason to scale back.

  9. I don't get it. I don't see any legitimate reasons for MHS not to host the Mundt tournament.

    I don't care if it takes every classroom in the district, and forces custodians to work overtime. It's once a year. Who can't gear up for an annual event? It's not like sports where you have games all the time to organize, staff, and clean up.

    Has this city forgotten its history? What a shame to this man's legacy if the city were to lose this event.

  10. As a Madison High student, I am in complete disgust that this would even be considered.

    To cancel the Karl Mundt debate would not only take away the only "home" event for the debate team if im not wrong, take away a part of history of Karl E. Mundt who in fact in 1925 founded the National Forensics League, a high school honor society promoting speech and debate activities, but it will also take away business for the city of Madison. I don't know if anyone else notices how busy Dairy Queen, Subway, McDonalds, and other local restaurants are during the debates. Your lucky to find a spot to sit inside.

    Being a former debater myself, the debate I looked forward to the most was this very debate! It was a chance for us to debate on our "home turf". And yes it is correct that school is let out at 2:00 PM or around that time just when other schools are arriving to accommodate the large crowd.

    Even though I'm not in debate anymore, I still feel very strong about it, and still remember how much I have learned from it. Hopefully the school, and other town leaders aknowledge this and make the correct decision.


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