I finally say goodbye to the MCKK debating team – 3 years later than the original plan. The whole coaching was accidental anyway – I never planned to be spending as much time as I had with a bunch of kids. I never thought I could stand kids that long; knowing how stern and feared I was with my own nephew and nieces.
I don’t know whether events that had taken place for the last two years were writings on the wall that I should move on; or because I wanted to move on so much I interpreted any events as signs that I should move on. Either way it was not important – I came to the point that I did not enjoy doing it anymore.
I left short of one month before hitting six years. Six years of coaching a debating contingent comprising of 30+ students each year, without being paid or ever receiving any form of personal or official appreciation from the school, is very long indeed. It is not so much of the personal toll that it had taken (financially and time wise); nor was it ever about appreciation – I came to realize that I would never be able to achieve what I set out to do.
And I cannot dwell on the reasons of why we did what we did, without revisiting the conversations we had among the coaches from the 90s generation in late 2003.
The late Adlan Benan Omar – the towering figure who almost single-handedly built the discipline and loyalty among the debaters that we boast nowadays – was against the idea from the very beginning. He knew me enough to know that one day I would be let down by the whole enterprise, knowing how single-minded I can be about a passion I pursue and knowing how the rest of the world would never want to keep up with me. Until his untimely passing away in 2008; he kept reminding me that he did what he did as far as MCKK’s debating team was concerned; out of loyalty to a naïve junior whom he had loved as a brother till the end.
The other brother who also had passed away in the midst of the enterprise – Allahyarham Shahrol Nizam Yusoff – kept reminding me throughout that I must be prepared mentally and emotionally to be let down by the boys and the school. He too knew me enough to see what may yet pass in the future.
Unfortunately (or fortunately); as if pathologically consistent with my behaviours all these years; I listened to counsel only to satisfy the need for a counsel. By the time I asked for opinions, usually I have made up my mind and very rarely people can convince me to change my mind. The enterprise would go on and the other senior debaters reluctantly trudged along out of loyalty to a friend.
So began a 6-year long enterprise – I was joined by arwah Ben and Dany (Class of 90), Rizal Zin (SAS Class of 92), arwah Shahrol (Class of 93), Fazurin and Chamat (Class of 94) and Sani (Class of 95). We were also aided by the non-debaters – Canoe (Class of 93) and Allen (Class of 94).
Once in a while Faiz and Penyu (Class of 91) and Kechoque (Class of 93) would come and join us. We also include Izrin (Class of 2000) and his generation’s debaters in the loop with the hope of passing the baton to them by 2006 – though that did not materialize.
In the course of 6 years since late 2003, we had never failed to follow the team to any single tournament; conducted countless training and workshops; sent hundreds of letters and postcards to the debaters individually and as a team; and even more countless SMS throughout the year. Each year we saw the new debaters take the place as the senior ones left the school to join the coaching bench.
Initially it was about restoring MCKK’s place as the giant of this country’s debating world. To a certain extent we did exactly that – although we never passed the semi-final curse for PPM (but looking at the quality of the teams that had been going to the final or winning PPM; it’s not too much of a disappointment because if we were to go to the final, it would have been about upgrading the standard of the PPM final; not to be put in the same league as the rest). MCKK went to the final for 5 consecutive years to the UIA National Inter-school Championship; the biggest debating tournament in the country. In 2004, both the BM and English went to the final. From 2004 until 2008, our debaters dominated the top best speakers list and won the overall and final best speaker title for 2006 to 2008. In 2007 when we won the championship – the team won a knock out 9 – 0 majority throughout; a feat not yet achieved by any teams (schools or universities) in the country before or since.
Our English debaters also did well in the domain alien to us i.e. competition against the non-Malays. We were the standard bearer of Malay boys in non-Malays dominated championship like HELP University Debating Championship, going to the semi-final in 2006. In 2004, 2005 and 2006 our debaters were the sole Malay speakers (or sole Malay male speaker in 2006) qualifying for the national level championship of the oratory competition organized by The Star and ESUM (English Speaking Union of Malaysia) for college and school students.
Outside the debating arena, our boys also contributed greatly to MCKK. The high echelons of KPKM and Prefects Board in 2004 to 2008 were dominated by debaters. We produced one head boy, one KPKM President, 4 KPKM Deputy Presidents and countless KPKM Excos. 2 debaters were also the recipients of Carey Award/Bolkiah Award – the highest award for MCKK students. Out of 3 SBP Full Colours recipients from MCKK in the period of 2004 to 2009; 2 were debaters. One debater was also crowned Scholar of The Year, another one was the recipient of Kijang Emas special scholarship by Bank Negara Malaysia (only around four such scholarships awarded each year to the country’s top SPM achievers; only 2 MCKK boys had been awarded in between 2004 and 2009).
All this is outstanding given the fact that each batch only has two to four debaters on average – showing how much they have dominated the school’s life in the past 6 years.
In terms of accolades, Ben and Shahrol should be smiling in the grave that they had helped to restore MCKK debaters to the place we once occupied in the 90s in the debating arena and the school’s life.
So which part of the objectives that we did not achieve?
When we started out, it was always about the boys. We sacked coaches when he could not put the boys’ interest before everything else. We crawled in front of the school administrators, no matter how rude or inconsiderate they could be sometimes; so that we could guarantee our presence among the boys. We put up with the inefficiencies and bureaucracy; and the school’s taking advantage of our volunteerism from time to time – so that we could make sure the boys would continue to benefit from our presence.
It has always been about making men out of boys; to make sure that future generations of MCKK boys can live up to our values and expectation. These are the values we learnt from the school and the values we strived to inculcate among the boys from their first day – that of leadership, industriousness, resourcefulness, sacrifice, courtesy and selflessness. From the first day they were told of our expectation – it would never matter whether they win debating tournaments or not so long they live up to our values.
While we had successes here and there, along the way cracks began to show everywhere. The problem with such an enterprise is the long gestation period between sowing the seed (so to speak); and seeing the final tree that it grows to become.
Many times we had pre-empted them with all the pitfalls they would face once they leave the school that would distract them from keeping their promises. We held their hands longer than necessary. We shouldered the burden from the teachers more than any other coaches that we have come across had done and eventually the teachers began to let outsource the responsibilities more and more to us.
In retrospect, that could be one of the many Achilles Heels of the whole enterprise. It was based on the premise that the boys and the adults around them understand and appreciate the values we espoused as much as we do; so that nobody takes advantage of anyone. Gullible as always, I actually thought that when we give tools and guidance to anyone, they would rise up to occasion to honour the trust given to them.
Sometimes it happens, many times it did not.
Over the years, the quality began to deteriorate and the differences of opinion with the other adults around them grew louder; that I began to wonder whether whatever values we tried so hard to inculcate were being undone by the environment they lived in.
At the same time, I see the commitment among the very people we invested so much to take over the enterprise when the time comes began to waiver. They fell into the same traps that we had forewarned them so many times before – either they were obsessed with the life after college; or their priorities changed.
Most of all, the present debaters began to live further and further away from the values we expect of them. We struggled with the senior debaters throughout 2009 and the final straw was when the very captain that we spent so much time coaching and mentoring; abandoned the team in the face of defeat in exchange for personal moments with some personal friends from girl schools; when any captain before or after would have rallied the team and saw them through their lowest points.
(I don’t even have to mention about the length we have to go through with a set of parents who lay blames on everything in this world - and debating is an easy target all the time).
Besides, all the other coaches have left the bench and I am the only one from the 90s generation still around – so it gets lonelier by the day.
So one day I wake up and decided that the wheel must turn. What goes up must come down, a privilege given can be taken back. In the grand scheme of things, when so much has been fed it would begin to become counterproductive on the very values you want to teach them -resourcefulness, courtesy and leadership; because they (the boys and the teachers) can always fall back on the coaches.
I finally realize that we have reached a turning point that the crutches which were once given to the boys to quickly gain their footing, are the very ill that they must rid of if they want to understand what values they need in order to be successful in the future.
Along the way, in their struggle and low points, another bunch of like-minded boys hell bent on claiming their rightful place as the giant of Malaysian debating circle will come along to begin to turn the wheel up again – not unlike the coming of Adlan Benan Omar or the recent generation of debaters in the 2004 – 2008 period. Until such time, MCKK debating teams are doomed to the twilight years unless they buck up and remember what made them great in the first place.
To the junior coaches – we leave behind all that you ever needed in order to maintain the chain, as the chain should never be broken (as you were taught from day one). There is no longer any rope to save nor to restrict you; you shall shape the boys in your image as how we tried to shape you in our image in the last 6 years. Time will tell how you fare; as time too will ultimately judge the people before you in this enterprise.
We can finally take our leave and as we set sail metaphorically to the West; you too must remember this:
“I made a promise Mr Frodo, don’t you ever leave him – and I don’t mean to”.