When he's bored and his wallet is empty, Marcus likes to conjure elaborate capers -- like robbing banks and escaping to Mexico through the city's sewer system. He jokingly claims to have a gun stashed in his bedroom closet. For a while this year, he walked around with a giant knife stuffed in his pocket.
From the outside, Marcus' world seems as bleak and violent as the Nas and Dead Prez songs he downloads onto cheap TDK compact discs. He lives on a street with no sidewalks in a cramped duplex near the VA Medical Center on Linwood. Trash blows across the gutters as he walks past abandoned houses on his way home from school.
Last year, he heard a gunshot as he climbed the steps to his house. He looked over his shoulder to see one of his neighbors splayed out on the ground bleeding, while another ran down the street. From the news the next day, he learned that one brother had murdered another over a $30 gold tooth. This year, one of the most popular kids in his school -- a girl who sat next to him every morning in African-American history class -- lost her life in the crossfire of a gunfight at a teen hangout on Troost. "At least one person dies every year in my school," he says.
Marcus hears a lot of talk about how school is the best means of escape. But like many of the kids he's grown up with, he'd rather be anywhere but in a classroom.
If he feels so much as a pinch in his stomach, he'll cut school. If a class isn't necessary for graduation, he'll drop it. If he thinks a homework assignment is stupid, he'll blow it off. He likes to brag that, were it not for a few happy accidents, he'd be just another dropout.
His report card proves it: Over four years, he's amassed a 2.3 grade point average at Central High School -- a school Missouri officials have deemed "academically deficient."
Yet he's one of the most sought-after seniors in the Kansas City School District.
He's weighing scholarship offers from the universities of Kentucky, Louisville; North Texas; Northern Iowa; and Missouri-Kansas City. Other schools -- Northwestern, Wake Forest, Iowa, Kansas, Southwest Missouri State, West Georgia, Emporia State, Pittsburg, Marist College and Mizzou -- have also expressed interest.
No, he's not a sensational athlete.
He's just a seventeen-year-old who has figured out how to beat the system -- one system, anyway. Now he's spoiling for a bigger fight.
Evaline Lumpkin struggles for words to describe her eighth child. "He's just Marcus," she says. "He's so different from all the kids that I've had."
He always seemed to be second-guessing the world around him. When she'd tell him to do something, he'd crumple his brow and demand to know why. Sometimes she had to swat his behind because his curiosity would inspire him to take apart brand-new radios or TVs. "He could never just settle for what was on the outside of anything," she says. "He would question everything."
She knew she had to keep her eye on a kid like that. But she was single; she didn't have enough money to be a stay-at-home mom, and her budget couldn't handle day care. Her first child had arrived shortly after she graduated from high school. From then on, she'd had to work whatever jobs she could land with her high school education. Marcus' father, a white man who worked as a painter at the Kansas City housing project where the family lived, could offer little help. Shortly after Marcus was born, the man was diagnosed with brain cancer and had to quit working. So Lumpkin turned her apartment into a nursery, taking in neighbor kids for money to subsidize time spent with her own.
Lumpkin wasn't one to set her children down for long lectures about right and wrong. But she radiates what Marcus likes to call "Southern values." Starting when she was five years old, she worked twelve hours a day in cotton fields with her parents and siblings in the Mississippi Delta. When she was ten, the Freedom Riders rolled to town on one of their voter-registration drives. They handed her mother a petition, and a photographer for Jet magazine snapped her picture when she signed it. After the photo appeared in print, the plantation's owner evicted her entire clan from their fieldside shacks. But Lumpkin's family remained close even after they split apart on their migration northward, first to Poplar Bluff, then St. Louis and, eventually, Kansas City. While Marcus was growing up, Lumpkin would load him and his siblings into the minivan and cart them to reunions in Mississippi. By then, she had a stable partner -- Marcus' stepfather, Glen Mitchem. "Glen didn't have the label of my official father, but he was the provider," Marcus says. "And that's what was most important."
Marcus started his travels through school at the Linwood Multi-Purpose Center. At first, school satisfied his voracious curiosity. "Twice a week, we'd take a field trip, every Tuesday and Thursday," he says. "I mean, they were teaching a different language in preschool. We were learning Swahili, Spanish. It was just so awesome."
By his teen years, he would be just another bored, brilliant kid drifting off toward obscurity. Swinney Elementary, a three-story schoolhouse overlooking the Country Club Plaza, seemed like a great big fun house. Marcus went to first grade in the early 1990s, during the halcyon days of the Kansas City School District's $2 billion desegregation effort. The scheme back then was to create dazzling magnet schools to lure whites into the inner city from the suburbs. At Swinney, the magnet theme was science and math.
"For some reason, I thought science was a little bit fancy," Marcus says of his early years at the school. "It was really the kind of science I wish I had now, where we'd go outside and launch rockets and stuff."
Math was a blast, too. Back then, his teacher would call out problems, and Marcus would leap out of his seat and race his peers to solve them on the board. "I wasn't the best, but I was fairly top-three," he says, even though he's never really liked math. "I only got into the competition because there was competition."
Marcus can't remember his first-grade teacher's name -- just that she was "fat and white." She was also heavily into computers. This was back in the days when schools were saturated with Apples. "We were fascinated by computers because we could play Oregon Trail," he recalls. "Oh, my god, this is the greatest thing that happened in schools.... It was a learning tool. It taught about the West and, as you went along, you had to, like, use math to balance your medicine and stuff like that... I mean, you had to become like a genius in multiplication in, like, first grade -- which is unheard of -- to master that game."
In second grade, he met Richard Smith, whom he today calls his "hetero life mate."
Like most of the kids who attended Swinney, Richard was white. Marcus started spending his afternoons at Richard's house. He has traveled with Richard's family on vacations to San Francisco. At Christmas, Richard's parents wrap presents for Marcus, too.
"I wanted him not to be a stranger in the white neighborhood," Lumpkin says. "I wanted him to feel relaxed in both worlds."
The desegregation plan seemed to work for Marcus, but his fun at school evaporated in third grade. "It became too academic-focused," he says. "You go from, like, a game teaching you how to learn to just a sheet of paper. So it's not half as entertaining. It's boring."
He also caught glimpses of the bureaucratic machinery in which he was snared. "Like, once a month," he says, "someone would be in the back of the room with a yellow notepad taking notes on how teachers talked. And teachers would always act strange that day. Like, give us candy the day before. I was, like, 'I know what the candy's for. It means the inspection lady's coming tomorrow.' The motive wasn't the teaching. It was just to model, to pose."
That's when Marcus started to drift. He and Richard would cut up in class, razzing the other kids and blowing off lessons. But Marcus was always crafty enough to avoid getting into serious trouble. His family's Southern values kept him from following some of his peers into delinquency.
Middle school was more of the same, only worse. Richard went off to private school, following the path most white families take to escape the Kansas City School District when their kids reach sixth grade. Marcus first attended Paul Robeson, then Central Middle School, a tough inner-city school where many of his peers were conditioning themselves to be kings of thugdom. Fights broke out regularly. A procession of girls became pregnant.
Amid the chaos, the teachers resorted to triage. "There, the lessons were, like, why fights are bad and why we should not support them," he says. Marcus often slept through class.
Lumpkin would take Marcus and his younger brother to school each morning, then spend her workday fretting about their walk home past the people dealing drugs out in the open between games of streetside dice.
"Mostly all of the little guys in the neighborhood that Marcus associated with are out selling drugs or they're not in school or anything," she says. "He walked past them every day. And he'd see them, and he'd just say hi and go on. He's not interested in what they're doing. He just don't care."
Though Marcus shared his peers' disdain for school, he never lost sight of his dream of one day being "somebody important." Back then, he saw himself eventually doing "some sort of federal or international enforcement," he says. "CIA or FBI. I was fascinated by those things, mainly because of the media. Movies. I can still see myself working for, like, the National Security Administration or something. Doing echelon maintenance, I don't know. It's political, and it's computer-related."
And it's powerful. Even as a young teen entering high school, he had a fascination with power. He'd see campaign signs blossom around the city during election seasons and think, Wow. That's cool. They're changing things. He longed to somehow peel away the campaign posters, to see the political mechanisms they represented. "Sometimes you want answers to questions, and you've got to have the knowledge to gain them," he says.
Most people who are familiar with the epic tragedy of the Kansas City School District would figure Central High was the last place Marcus would find answers. He entered his freshman year just as state officials were poised to strip the district of its accreditation and declare the school academically deficient thanks to years of low test scores. Marcus almost didn't go. He had aced a test that would have given him a full-ride scholarship to the well-regarded Rockhurst High School. But his mom wanted him to stay close to home.
If he had gone to the private Catholic school in Kansas City's affluent southwest corridor, he would never have played the game of charades that changed his life.
He was supposed to be learning about computers. But the computer class he'd signed up for had no teacher, so he and his fellow students were enduring a procession of substitutes who baby-sat them.
Because the school district had a shortage of substitutes, full-time faculty members filled in from time to time. One day, Jane Rinehart, an English teacher, took her turn in front of the class. Rinehart didn't know anything about computer programming. But she didn't just want to sit while the kids tore up the room, so she divided them up and had them act out the names of popular movies and books.
Right away, she noticed how Marcus caught on to the nuances of the game. After an hour or so, when the students' zeal for the game waned, Rinehart sidled up beside him. "You seem pretty bright," she recalls saying. "Would you be interested in our debate team?"
As Central's debate coach, Rinehart is always on the lookout for sharp kids. She prefers teens with an attitude, the kind who question authority and might not have the grades to match their wits. "In an inner-city school, one of the best places to find good debaters is the in-school-suspension room," she says.
Marcus wasn't interested. "When I hear debate," he says, "I think boring shit." But he played along, asking a few questions and listening as Rinehart gave him her full sales pitch. She showed off the school's shelves full of gleaming trophies, which her teams had earned by out-arguing kids from some of the nation's best schools.
Eventually she told him that if he joined the team, he'd have to transfer out of his music-appreciation class. That sold him.
Marcus started hanging out after school in Room 109, headquarters for Central debate. The room is in perpetual disarray, with high stacks of document boxes lined up along the gray cinder-block walls and crates of books stuffed into every corner. On any given day, Rinehart's room is filled with kids cutting up photocopies and pasting lines of type onto sheets of paper, making the weapons they'll use to humiliate some kid from another school.
Debate might be the greatest trick in public education. It can inspire kids who can't stand reading to dive into the world's ocean of information -- simply to avoid losing an hourlong battle of the minds with someone their own age.
"I mean, losing is just never fun," Marcus says. "You don't go home and celebrate losing. Especially with debate. It's like a test of your intellectual ability. And losing at that is like the ultimate insult."
Marcus joined the team more than a month into the school year. By then, the other kids had a dozen or so lessons under their belts. They were holding practice rounds daily, pairing up at the front of the room and arguing ways to improve the public-education system, which was the national debate topic Marcus' freshman year. (The topic takes the form of a resolution proposing a broad policy change.) Across the country, kids were studying the same subject, which had been selected the previous year by high school coaches in a nationwide vote.
During the initial practices, Marcus would sit back and observe. "After a while, I was, like, 'This guy is not making any sense. He's trying to defend, like, single-sex schools, but he's not addressing anything important. So I was, like, 'Oh, I'll debate you!'"
Rinehart could tell Marcus was going to be a powerful debater. "Other kids were more concerned with 'What do I say and do, and where do I stand?' The procedural kinds of things," Rinehart says. "And he was more interested in how the argument worked and how you could respond to the argument."
A lifelong lover of games, Marcus had found one that offered infinite fun. "It's a game without rules," he says. "It's whatever you make it to be. It's your game. You just got to win at it."
Marcus had only a week or so to prepare for his first tournament, a two-round, after-school affair at Paseo Fine Arts Academy. He and his teammates filed off the bus on a crisp October day in 1999, squeezing through the school's metal detectors with their bulky boxes of evidence. The school's cafeteria was buzzing. Kids hunkered around the lunch tables in suits and dresses, sharing strategies and talking smack about the impending showdowns.
Most of the debaters were black, like Marcus -- a demographic that defied the history of competitive debate. Since the early nineteenth century, debate has been the domain of white males -- usually rich ones. It's an elite sport, a pipeline to power. According to officials at the National Forensic League, more high school and college debaters go on to careers in law or policy making than to careers in any other fields.
Marcus got a taste of that power during his debut at Paseo. He found it so easy to poke holes in his opponents' arguments that he wove a little trash talk into his speeches. He and his partner went undefeated. At the end of the night, he strode up to the front of the auditorium and nabbed a medallion for being one of the best speakers at the tournament.
"I felt gangsta!" he says.
And that's exactly the feeling Linda Collier had hoped to foster with a special league called Debate Kansas City that she'd created two years earlier. She had been coaching college debate at UMKC since the mid-1980s, and she loved it -- but it bugged her that it was dominated by white men.
She tried fanning the campus to recruit women and African-Americans, but she didn't have much success. Then, at a college tournament in the mid-'90s, she struck up a conversation with Melissa Maxcy Wade, director of debate at Emory University in Atlanta. Both female-led programs had become powerhouses in the male-driven sport. Emory's and UMKC's teams are routinely ranked among the nation's top ten. In 1994, Collier won a national championship. Wade won in 1998.
Wade was on her own quest to diversify the sport. In 1985, Emory had founded a small debate program among high schools in inner-city Atlanta, which she says ran "on rubber bands and a gerbil." She invited Collier to attend an upcoming meeting at Emory with the Open Society Institute, a philanthropic venture funded by billionaire George Soros. In the late '80s, the OSI had established high school debate programs in Eastern European nations -- countries newly formed after the fall of the Soviet Union -- as a way of fostering the principles of democracy. Those efforts had been successful, so OSI hoped to expand into America's struggling urban communities.
Within months, Collier had about $97,000 to fund a program for one year. (The OSI has spent a total of $9.3 million on the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues -- commonly referred to as the UDL.) Soon Debate Kansas City started holding regular afternoon tournaments like Marcus' first at Paseo. Today, the UDL consists of fourteen leagues in cities from Los Angeles to New York. In its six-year history, more than 12,000 city kids have participated, more than 1,000 of them from Kansas City.
In an era when affirmative action is under attack, college recruiters from across the country have seized on the program as a way to diversify their student bodies. Competitive debate, many university administrators believe, is one of the best ways to prepare a kid for college. And in an urban league, most of the debaters are black or Latino.
"Top schools are desperate to get minorities," says Scott Deatherage, director of debate at Northwestern University. College recruiters can read applications from UDL participants color-blind, he says, "because, at the end of the day, you have a seven-in-ten chance of getting a minority."
Jane Rinehart wouldn't settle for a ghetto debate squad.
In the years before Marcus' debut at Central, her squad had taken home trophies from tournaments at some of the most celebrated high schools in the Midwest. But she knew Marcus was going to lift the program a little higher. His first real competition came a month after the Paseo tournament -- at the Kansas City Classic, hosted by UMKC. There he went head-to-head with kids from Blue Valley North, Blue Valley Northwest and Salina Central.
As he moved from room to room in Haag Hall, facing down white kids, Marcus found himself amazed at how easy it was to shred through arguments. As the day progressed -- and he and his partner kept winning -- the tournament's power-matching system forced him against increasingly tough opponents. But he advanced unbeaten to the final eight, then to the final four before meeting and beating perennial powerhouse Shawnee Mission East in the championship round.
At the awards ceremony, Marcus felt almost superhuman. He knew he'd done well -- but best out of all those kids from across the metro area?
"You can't buy in a store what it means for a kid from Central to beat a kid from an affluent suburban school," says Wade, the coach at Emory. "They're not supposed to beat those kids. They're supposed to work for them someday."
His sophomore year, he teamed with Donnell Minton, a junior. Rinehart unleashed the two on the national circuit -- a collection of tournaments at high schools and universities from Berkeley to Harvard. It's the elite of the elite. On any given weekend, students from such exclusive schools as Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville and Pace Academy in Minneapolis load their boxes of evidence onto dollies and board airplanes bound for places like Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, where they argue nonstop. Central is one of the only Urban Debate League squads in the country that has tried the national circuit -- and won.
These forays onto the national stage have also made Central stand out among Missouri debate squads -- not always in a good way.
Over the years, Rinehart has been at odds with the Missouri State High School Activities Association, in spite of the improbable success of her program. The MSHSAA oversees high school debate in Missouri, and the association is controlled by coaches and administrators at rural and suburban schools who want to keep the shifting trends of the national circuit at bay.
Unlike most other state activities associations, the MSHSAA limits how far kids can travel to debate tournaments. Consequently, at the beginning of Marcus' sophomore year, Rinehart received a letter from Fred Bingelli, the MSHSAA's assistant director in charge of speech and debate, accusing her of taking her squad to a tournament at Harvard University. Most people would be thrilled to hear about a bunch of inner-city kids debating at Harvard. But MSHSAA officials saw it as a punishable offense. Adding insult to injury, Rinehart had to prove that her kids hadn't even gone to the competition.
The bureaucratic speed bump didn't slow Rinehart's ascent on the national circuit. She wasn't about to stop taking Marcus to the few out-of-state tournaments within the MSHSAA's restricted, 250-mile travel radius. He might not have been able to compete at Harvard or Stanford, but he could still go to West Des Moines, where high school kids debate in the fast, creative style that he prefers.
And where he won more often than he lost.
His sophomore year, he and Donnell battled to the quarterfinals -- one of the final eight teams -- at a massive tournament at Valley High School in the tony suburb of West Des Moines. Later that year, they traveled to the University of Kentucky, where they made it to the semifinals by beating a team from New Trier, a labyrinthine four-story public school with its own shade-dappled campus among the mansions of Chicago's North Shore suburbs.
The topic that year was privacy rights, and New Trier was one of the most feared squads on the circuit. They had devised a case that proposed outlawing the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy. This was shortly after Pvt. Barry Winchell had been murdered by fellow soldiers who thought he was gay, and the Army's controversial rules were being debated daily in the media ("No Fortunate Son," December 14, 2000). New Trier used it as a springboard to argue against hate crimes inflicted on gays.
New Trier's case put Marcus and Donnell in a tricky position. In each round, one team must present a case in favor of that year's resolution; the opposing team must argue against that case. As the negative team in this debate round, the pair had to offer a contrarian point of view. And with New Trier arguing an ethical no-brainer like "thou shalt not kill gays," playing the devil's advocate wasn't easy. So Marcus, Donnell and Rinehart huddled and devised a plan to argue that New Trier's case was morally repugnant, that it forced Central to advocate killing homosexuals. The New Trier kids grew fuzzy-headed at the attack. They could think of no logical way to answer, and they lost the round.
The season ended with Marcus and Donnell traveling to Oklahoma to compete in the National Forensic League's national championships, which -- for Missouri debate squads -- is the pinnacle of success.
For a national-circuit debater like Marcus, though, a trip to NFL nationals might be cool, but it's hardly a crowning achievement. At tournaments in Omaha, Chicago and central Kentucky, all he ever heard other kids talk about, it seemed, was getting a bid to the annual Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky.
Established in 1971, the tournament "seems to have taken on a life of its own," says its founder, J.W. Patterson, director of debate at Kentucky. "It has become the event of the year. Many teams don't even go to the NFL nationals. They just aim for the TOC."
It's tough to get an invitation. Teams have to fight their way to the high elimination rounds at national-circuit tournaments, where the air is extremely thin. Out of 100 teams, no more than 32 make it to elimination rounds. TOC bids often go to the top eight or four finishers -- usually the few roaming superpower schools that dominate every weekend.
It was even tougher for Marcus and Donnell to get one because MSHSAA rules severely limited the number of qualifying tournaments they could attend. Their last chance was the Omaha Westside Invitational in January 2002. The stakes were high -- Donnell was a senior. He'd never have another opportunity for a bid. "I wanted it bad," he says.
So the two worked furiously for weeks in advance, packing their file boxes with new sheets of evidence, practicing their speeches into the dark winter nights. By the time they got to Omaha, they were amped. They sliced through the competition of 94 teams, some from as far away as Boston and Dallas. At an awards ceremony before the final rounds, Donnell and Marcus claimed third- and second-place speaker trophies, respectively. By the time they reached the sweet sixteen, they had a crowd of debaters from other Missouri schools watching them compete. They bowed out in the quarterfinals, losing to a team from Greenhill School, a $16,000-a-year prep academy in the Dallas suburbs. They took fifth place, but it was enough to win a bid to the TOC.
One of the greatest moments of Marcus' high school career was soon followed by one of his greatest disappointments. A fifty-year-old state rule forbade him from competing at the TOC because it was held after April 1 -- the official end of the debate season, according to the MSHSAA.
In the months following the Omaha tournament, Rinehart had tried to persuade the state activities association to make an exception for Central. For Rinehart, this seemed like a reasonable request. The MSHSAA's rules had been drafted long before TOC invitations became the most coveted prize on the national circuit. Besides, it had been a decade since the MSHSAA's members had expanded travel limits, letting teams compete within 250 miles of the state's borders -- this had opened the door to about a half-dozen national-circuit tournaments, where the buzz was all about the TOC. It was only a matter of time before a pair of Missouri kids would set their sights on nabbing one.
Moreover, Rinehart reasoned, what adult would deny kids an opportunity to compete with their brains among the best in the nation? "You'd think they would have been thrilled," Rinehart says. "You'd think they would have been excited or happy."
But the folks at the MSHSAA are notoriously inflexible. With them, rules are rules.
Rinehart sent a letter to the Columbia-based bureaucrats anyway. They flatly denied her within a week. Her only remaining option was to drive to Columbia on an early morning last April. There, she, Marcus and Gene Brecino, Central's activities director, participated in a conference call with the appeals committee.
The MSHSAA is stacked against urban schools. Its rules are set by vote, with each of its 753 member schools getting equal say. At just 39 of those schools, the student population is mostly minorities. Yet almost 20 percent of all schoolkids in the state are black. Only four blacks have ever served on the MSHSAA's board of directors during its 77-year history. No African-Americans work in its offices.
"It was a dreary, gray, yucky day," Rinehart recalls. "We drove through misty rain. Brecino talked most of the way up there about how they were going to be looking for some way to deny us, how they were going to come up with something out of left field."
With his years of experience dealing with the MSHSAA, the seasoned administrator called it right. As soon as they arrived, Kent Summers, associate executive director of the activities association, began laying into them.
"We don't have anything on our records that says that tournament was sanctioned," he said, referring to the Omaha competition. Sanctioning is your basic bureaucratic shuffle. In order for the Omaha tournament to have been sanctioned, its director would have had to file paperwork with the Nebraska School Activities Association, and officials there would have had to forward that paperwork to the middle managers at the MSHSAA. Missouri is one of the only states in the union where the high school activities association requires debate events to be sanctioned. Most other states gave it up long ago.
When she heard this, Rinehart's eyes widened with shock. She had seen other Missouri teams at the Omaha tournament. They had cheered her kids on. Missouri schools had been competing there for years. Obviously, those teams were either uninformed or unconcerned about the sanctioning requirements. Moreover, those schools' teams -- all of them from rural or suburban communities -- weren't facing the MSHSAA's scorn for having competed. Summers had singled out her inner-city school.
The meeting lasted just fifteen minutes. The members of the appeals committee -- one from Pleasant Hill, a tiny rural hamlet east of Belton; another from Joplin; the third from Jackson, a town of 12,000 near Cape Girardeau -- weren't even in the room. Rinehart and Marcus had to travel more than two hours to make their case to a speakerphone placed in the center of a conference table. Marcus told them how debate meant everything to him, how he would be nowhere without the game.
After less than a minute of thought, the committee members unanimously agreed to deny Marcus his coveted opportunity.
Rinehart and Brecino headed back to the car, heavy with disappointment. But they'd known going in that they might be denied. Marcus, however, had held on to hope. He was crushed.
After so many debates about the nature of power and the stubbornness of institutions, Marcus should have known better. But now that he was powerless, he finally understood the nature of power.
"Everything seemed so corrupt," he says. "It just fuels one off another. I haven't seen, like, a legitimate political system ever since I started looking into things. I mean, there's nothing that works for everyone. It's always for selfish interests and underlying assumptions. No one does things for others. It's trade-offs for your self-benefit.
"I still believe you can change things politically," he says. "But only social problems. Not, like, education stuff. I learned that day that you can't do anything to change the politics of school."
On the drive home, Marcus stared out the window, barely listening as Brecino talked about how they'd lost the battle but would win the war. Later, various political leaders tried to rally behind him. After the Pitch published an account of his denied opportunity ("Highly Debatable," May 30, 2002), four state legislators -- Melba Curls, Sharon Sanders Brooks, Yvonne Wilson and Mary Groves Bland -- wrote a letter to Becky Oakes, the MSHSAA's executive director.
"I never did hear back from her," Curls says, still peeved at being ignored.
Oakes did respond, however, when sixteen-year-old Marcus blasted an angry e-mail to the MSHSAA from his home computer. In it, he declared himself a "Sovereign Individual." He deemed the MSHSAA a "racist community" that had "denied [his] personal rights to freedom protected by higher laws" before concluding: "I wish for your warrant-less resistance to my academic achievement to halt or I will be forced to take legal action to protect my civil rights."
Oakes, who makes more than $100,000 a year as the MSHSAA's executive director, immediately complained to Marcus' principal, William McClendon. Marcus was hauled into the office and forced to write a letter of apology.
"You may rest assured," he wrote, "that I will be more reflective before exercising my First Amendment rights in the future."
Kansas City School Board members Al Mauro, Duane Kelly and David Smith had also read the Pitch article and come away dismayed. At a board meeting at the Manual Career and Technical Center, they groused about the situation and vowed not to let it happen again.
Last fall, the board directed district officials to look into the situation and find a solution.
But their efforts only made matters worse.
Next week: Marcus' senior debate season turns out to be the best and worst in Central's history -- he wins more tournaments than any debater before him, but his coach is losing her historic battle with the bureaucrats who oversee high school activities in Missouri.