Recently, I’ve been a little more active with Wikipedia, which if you’re not aware, is one of the internet’s best resources. A lot of academics like to make themselves feel better by scoffing at the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, but Wikipedia works remarkably well for what it is, and its use is continually on the rise.
Stephen Colbert, as part of his brilliant character schtick, proclaims that anyone can create their own “wikiality” by insisting that their view is consensus and posting it on Wikipedia, and at times he encourages his viewers to do so. While I think Wikipedia is a great resource, his observations are both funny and scary because they’re undeniably true. Wikipedia may never be a viable source for legitimate research, I find it to be incredibly informative as a starting point for learning about a topic with which I am not familiar.
There’s a little more backstory to my recent Wiki-activity than that, though. To me, this is an interesting enough personal story in it’s own right, so forgive me in advance if I ramble a bit.
My senior year of high school was honestly one of the most fun times I’ve had in my life so far. I missed my then-girlfriend Melissa (now my wife), who was already at Harding, since she was a year ahead of me in school. That was tough to deal with, but everything else in life was going just fine. My friends and I were finally the rulers of the school at McCallie, at least to the extent that a bunch of nerds can rule anything.
I was finishing things up to become an Eagle Scout, but things really weren’t that busy at school. I had pretty much already decided that I was going to Harding, so I had a new outlook on my academic life. I took classes on subjects that I enjoyed (economics and world religion) instead of the ones that were designed to make my transcript look perfectly impossible (AP Physics, which I basically neglected, and AP Government).
My senior year was also supposed to be a banner year for McCallie Mock Trial. Mock Trial was my main after-school activity, and as dorky as it sounds, it was incredibly fun. Most of my best friends from McCallie were on the team, and we got to spend three afternoons each week arguing with one another and pretending we were other people. It was great fun for three afternoons a week, all the way through high school.
While Baylor was our natural rival in pretty much everything at McCallie (a subject that probably warrants its own post at some point), they didn’t have a mock trial team. Instead, we focused our efforts on taking down a group of home-schooled students who seeminly spent all of their time living and breathing mock trial. My friends and I didn’t have any kind of inherent problem with these people or their decision not to attend a normal school, but for some reason (probably because they were the only team beating us every year), we spent most of our energy figuring out how to bring them down.
We didn’t like the fact that they could spend their time on Mock Trial and call it civics class, but to be fair, they were every bit as academically strong as the students at any other school, if not more so. They were almost all from conservative Christian families (like many of my eventual classmates at Harding) who, from what we could tell, thought it was best to shelter their kids somewhat.
During our senior year, in the time leading up to the local mock trial tournament (held each year in February), my friends and I ran across a website that the home-schoolers had created to discuss the tournament and their accomplishments (which were limited to simply reaching the state tournament at that point). My friends and I found the site overly pretentious and mostly unwarranted, so some of my less-inhibited friends decided to deface it with some colorful posts. Because of their upbringing, their families did not take well to our interesting additions to their website, and this added to our now-full-blown rivalry.
When the tournament came around, my team was very confident in our abilities. While our top talent was theoretically spread between two McCallie teams, my teammates and I thought we had the best chance to knock off those pesky home-schoolers. We had three reliable attorneys (myself, my buddy Doug, and a sophomore named Jacob) and some strong witnesses. We also had a chip on our shoulders, since our coach seemed to think that the “other” #1 team was the best team we had to offer.
As for our rivals, the home-schoolers weren’t really great thinkers on their feet, for the most part. They were exceptionally well-rehearsed, and they put on a great show for the judges most of the time. We had always played them close, and we thought eventually we would take them out.
My team drew the #1 home-school team (I think they went by Family Christian Academy or some other made-up name) on our side of the tournament bracket, which was disappointing. The top two teams in the local tournament advanced to the state competition, and we looked to be the odd team out. Led by siblings Matt, Josh, and Anna Downer, that team had the best prepared and most experienced compettors.
As expected, we had to face this team in the semifinals, and our match truly went down to the wire. You don’t learn who wins a mock trial round until well after it’s over, after the judges score the round and deliberate. Even then, you don’t actually find out the final score (at least not at that level of competition). We were very much on edge, but we legitimately thought we had won.
You might be able to guess how the story unfolded from there. We didn’t win, but the judges explained to us that it was very close, almost a tie. They gave us the usual speech about how both teams deserved to advance, but we knew our season was over. For most of my team, our careers were over.
Some of us took this defeat better than others. For our teammate Jacob, he would have two more chances (and I believe he made good use of the opportunities as a member of the state’s third-place team the following year). But for the rest of us, it was a difficult way to finish four years of work.
Adding insult to injury, the home-schoolers won the state title en route to winning the national high school tournament. They repeated this feat the following year, and the McCallie Class of 2002 would like to take some credit for giving them top-notch training along the way. For the last few years, we’ve thought to ourselves that it should have been us bringing home the national title.
So, to bring this story full circle, we return to the present day. Since last April, an ambitious young Wikipedia contributor has gotten away with a trite mention of the home-schoolers’ mock trial accomplishments in the article for Chattanooga, Tennessee. Following a list of the area’s private secondary schools, the writer added that Chattanooga has a “prominent homeschool community whose Mock Trial team became the first to win back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003.” You can view the revision here.
I believe that enterprising editor to be none other than Matt Downer, leader of the team that perhaps should not have beaten my own team in the lowly Chattanooga area tournament in 2002. The editor’s IP address belongs to Harvard University, where Downer is not only a student, but (at least at one time) also the president of Harvard’s College Republicans, which is no small feat I’m sure.
Now, the tables have turned. Downer will no longer be allowed to “have his cake, and eat it too” on the Chattanooga Wikipedia entry, thanks to an edit I made last night. His ambitious addition was irrelevant to the context of the entry, since every school listed in that paragraph could have rattled off a list of impressive accolades, many far greater than mock trial national championships. Now, this Wikipedia entry is back on track and less of a forum for the CSTHEA/FCA/whatever-their-name-is-now home-schoolers. You can view my edit here (permalinked, since it will inevitably be changed).
For this brazen act of defiance, I fully expect to receive the wrath of dozens of angry, over-protective parents of kids who are actually no longer kids. Okay, maybe my edit was not brazen, and maybe I won’t be getting any phone calls, but it’s one way of gaining back some semblance of respect for the years of hard work that my friends and I put in for the sake of McCallie Mock Trial. I’m not bitter, I promise.
Now, I can begin focusing my wikifying efforts on the page for Harding University, which could use a lot of work. It’s the #7 search result for HU on Google, so it deserves some attention from students and alumni who want their school to have a more respectable public face than being “listed among America’s top conservative colleges.” Harding deserves better, so I’ll be working on that if anyone wants to help.
UPDATE: They’re deleting all my posts on the message board now, which is kind of a sad move on their part. That’s okay, though. A screenshot of my post is below. If you can’t see the whole picture, you should be able to click on it and see it on a new page.