Elisa Sand reports what I've known since November, 2008: the Karl E. Mundt Debate Tournament is dead.
I knew Mundt was lost when I met with Madison High School principal Sharon Knowlton and superintendent Vince Schaefer in November, 2008 to discuss the school district's announcement that it would no longer host the tournament. Superintendent Schaefer seemed to be open to learning about the details of the tournament and considering ways to keep the tournament at the high school, but principal Knowlton appeared to be wearing the pants on the issue. Principal Knowlton made clear that she was fully invested in what I imagine was her overwhelmed debate coach's line that running a debate tournament is just too hard, a burden and not an honor.
Now yes, Dakota State University (my current employer) agreed to take on full hosting duties. Yes, DSU was willing to make every effort, even work around finals and graduation, to keep the Mundt Tournament in Madison. But when the high school wimped out, that was the end of Mundt. I knew this for three reasons:
- Coaches around the state see debate tournaments as ways to support the host teams. The host team doesn't have to travel. A big tournament helps build the team and raise funds through concessions. It gives the host kids a rare chance at home field advantage. Even though traveling to Madison was inconvenient, teams still came, because they wanted to support the Madison debate team. When the Madison debate coach and principal declared the Mundt tournament was overwhelming and not worth MHS's effort, other teams who regularly do the work of hosting tournaments felt snubbed, even insulted.
- Teams were thus more than happy to turn to a school that is willing to host: Harrisburg. Our Class A rivals are building a debate team from scratch. Harrisburg recognizes that hosting a tournament brings prestige and excitement to the debate team and the school as a whole. Harrisburg leaped at the opportunity, and coaches around the state were more than happy to take their kids to a high school that values debate.
- Against Harrisburg, DSU never stood a chance. Coaches around the state have been to DSU, and they know DSU does not have the space to conveniently house the sprawling Mundt tournament. Construction at the Science Center this year would have made hosting all the more challenging. Besides, DSU has no debate team or speech major. Why travel to Madison when traveling to Harrisburg will support an active and growing Class A debate team?
But not for me. I'll be judging... in Harrisburg.
I love judging so much that I won't notice my disappointment at the contest. I derive immense excitement from being around such smart and eager kids who will give up a Friday to make speeches and arguments in front of a judge. I love the chance to give kids pointers on delivery and logic. I enjoy dropping a few dollars in the bucket at the concession stand to help the local arts boosters.
But for years, I've gotten to enjoy doing those things in the halls of Madison High School on Valentine's Day weekend. Way back when, I won a trophy for speaking in Doc Miller's classroom. In the 1990s, I helped run the Mundt tournament, playing wingman to three different coaches before getting to run the big show myself, with the invaluable help of my dutiful debate team and lots of spreadsheets. I've come back to the contest as a coach or judge eight of the tournament's nine last years.
Now I lose that experience. I don't get to peruse the Bulldog memorabilia between rounds. I don't get to make the quick ten-minute drive home to my wife and daughter after the final round. I don't get to welcome all my friends in the debate world to Madison and point them toward the Dairy Queen or China Moon. I don't get to make the Madville Mundtster Award an ongoing tradition. I don't get to honor Senator Mundt or talk Mundt lore with coaches and debaters.
I lose... Senator Mundt loses... Madison loses a great tradition, because Madison High School, my alma mater, decides that after 42 successful tournaments, hosting Mundt is just too hard.
No excuses allowed: our public high school made a bad decision. Our public servants have killed a great debate tradition.