Author Topic: Vince Binder  (Read 44936 times)

SherryHall

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #105 on: May 08, 2010, 01:44:47 PM »
Vinay Pai

I spent all Sunday night being depressed about our performance at the tournament, but you put things in perspective for me Monday morning. I'll tack this on to the list of things you've taught me...and approach our great activity from a fresh perspective. There's always a next year to win debates, but there's not always a next year to tell people how you feel about them. Thanks Jim, and I'll see you in a few weeks.

SherryHall

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #106 on: May 08, 2010, 01:45:56 PM »
F D Kirkman Sr.

I had the importunity to see you deliver this live @ the BOC and it was moving. I felt your pain, the message was clear. I feel like @ Towson we criticize the debate community alot but your speech really resonated with me, there are people in this community that I do care about and as dysfunctional as the debate community is, we are a family in many way. I hope that speech helped you as much as it helped me.

SherryHall

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #107 on: May 08, 2010, 01:46:57 PM »
Steve Leacock


Something good coming from such a tragedy is the best tribute I could imagine. Good form, sir. I'll never forget those JHS debate trips.

DanielleHegedus

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #108 on: July 25, 2010, 08:43:49 PM »
The scholarship in Vince's name has been established through the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues. Thank you so much to Eric Tucker, Lenny Gail, and all of the folks at the NAUDL who made this happen so quickly. Our goal is to raise $25,000 a year to send UDL kids to debate institutes. So far, we've raised just over $10K, so any donation you can make would have a significant impact--whether it's helping pay for a kid's flight to institute, money for supplies and food, etc. Vince loved summers at debate institute (especially Kentucky) and he loved debate and teaching. I think this scholarship would make him very proud. I sincerely appreciate all of your help and all of the love that you have sent out toward Vince. He is absolutely irreplaceable and is missed greatly. Here is the site: http://www.urbandebate.org/honoringvince.shtml

SherryHall

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #109 on: August 05, 2010, 02:27:44 PM »
http://www.comm.cci.fsu.edu/Newsroom/FSUComm-Calendar/Binder-Memorial


Binder Memorial

August 21, 2010 6:00pm - August 21, 2010 8:00pm

A celebration of the life of Vincent Binder, a Communication graduate student and teaching assistant who was abducted and murdered in April, will be held from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, in 128 Diffenbaugh. The community is welcome to attend and share memories of our friend, classmate, student and teacher.
At 7:30 p.m., the inaugural Binder's Buddies Walk will leave from the Westcott Fountain and proceed south on Copeland Street, turn right onto Jefferson Street, and at the end of Jefferson turn left and head to Langford Green outside University Center B, where Dr. Davis Houck will make brief comments in honor of Vince.
The Binder's Buddies Walk is being held to remind everyone in the community never to walk alone at night and always walk with a buddy instead. Commemorative T-shirts will be available, and net proceeds will be donated to the National Urban Debate League, which helps deserving students pay expenses associated with interscholastic high school debate.

fseoer2010

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #110 on: September 14, 2010, 03:44:20 AM »

 Sorry to hear the news about Vince...a big loss for many, many people. I know the Baylor debate crew is thinking about his friends and family.

SherryHall

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #111 on: March 23, 2011, 05:18:28 AM »
Vince Binder was awarded the Matthew Grindy Award for Outstanding Graduate Student at CEDA Nationals.  Jim Schultz delivered a moving speech for his friend.  I am reposting it here.

Vince Binder - CEDA 2011 Matthew Grindy Outstanding Graduate Assistant Coach
by Jim Schultz on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 12:57am

This is the outline from the speech I gave in Binghamton at CEDA nats. I did a decent bit of impromptu, i think the speech form and content might have been better. I forgot to throw some tape on it, so if you didn't see it, you won't know. Sorry Danielle!

 

 

 

I want to say thanks really quick to everyone at CEDA for recognizing such an obvious choice for the Matt Grindy award, and or giving me the opportunity to show some love and admiration for one of the truly great ones our community has ever seen.

 

Given that the Matt Grindy award is intended to recognize both the pedagogical and competitive contributions to the growth and development of policy debate by graduate student coaches, who are balancing their obligations to their school work and that of their programs. The recipient needs to demonstrate excellence in graduate and professional obligations as well as their work as coaches.

 

So, it only makes sense to recognize a graduate student that does not have a director of forensics, or a director of debate, or even another graduate student to help coach. It only makes sense to recognize someone that has never received money for being a Graduate Assistant, and “worked” on a voluntary basis. It only makes sense to recognize someone who was crushing graduate school despite struggling as an undergraduate student to navigate their way through academia. And it ONLY makes sense to recognize the singular nicest, funniest, most caring person I have ever known. It only makes sense to recognize Vince Binder as one of the best among us.

 

In my 7 years as a competitive debater I had over 20 partners. Vince was my partner my novice year of high school in 1994 – some of you were like 3 years old then – and he was also my debate partner two years ago. Vince was always a tireless worker, and THE BEST TEAM-MATE you could ask for. He made every tournament more fun, every meeting run smoother, every practice debate turned into a comedy hour, he made every person on the team he was on (and probably that you were on) love debate more than they already did. He never made excuses, never gave up, always overcame every obstacle with grace and a smile on his face.

 

Vince was not born into a life of privilege. He had to struggle for everything he ever had and all the while he was overcoming obstacles he made everyone around him a better person. He never complained – he never wanted to. He fucking loved life. He was always able to find a silver lining in every situation. Even when no one else could. But not every cloud has a silver lining...

 

Last year at CEDA was the last time I ever saw Vince. Two weeks after the CEDA at Berkeley last year Vince was murdered. There is no silver lining. But just as Vince refused to see himself as a victim, I refuse to remember him that way. It turns out I’m not the only one. I’d like to share some words that some people want to share about Vince…

 

Scott Odekirk of THE Idaho State wanted me to say that Vince gave the funniest debate speech he has ever seen. And Ray Liotta is a shitty actor.

 

Misha Laurents, one of Vince’s professors at FSU that he taught public speaking under:  From the first day I met him, it was easy to detect a quiet confidence and humility behind his sly smile and beautiful eyes.  I had a real affinity for him right off the bat!  Vince's students at FSU adored him, too!  That is in great part because he was intelligent, clever, and kind, but it also had a lot to do with the way he helped them to empower themselves through communication.  He used to say to them 'it's your world' when they got up to speak--which says so much about Vince and what he wanted for his students.

 

Jason Fixelle, one of Vince’s debaters while he coached at FSU: I think the best way to define what Vince was all about is simple. He loved debate… as a small debate team, we experienced some hardship. Regardless of the roadblocks we faced and the losses we endured, nothing seemed to phase Vince. He was always looking forward, trying to improve, … ready for the next debate… I am by no means one of the better debaters Vince has ever encountered, but he had faith and high expectations regardless of prior outcomes. His perseverance and commitment to the team even at our lowest lows was inspiring and really did touch me… as for Vince as a person, from the second you met him it was impossible to feel uncomfortable around him.

 

It's been nearly a year since Vince left our lives and despite the short time I knew him, I still think about him quite often… I know Vince would want everyone to revel in what they have, especially for those attending the CEDA tournament. They get to debate. They have the opportunity to do what Vince loved to do and they should cherish it.

 

Frank “Big Poppa” Irizzary, Vince’s coach while he was at UF:

I know Matt Grindy would approve of Vince Binder winning an award named after him because Vince too had that love and passion for debate, for his debaters and for Florida State University.  I know there were no greater loves for Vince Binder than the love he had for his friends and family, for debate and the debate community and for Florida State University.

 

Dr. James Brey, was the coach at FSU when we first were undergrads, he says:

My memories of Vince are not tied to his humor or his intellect. My best memories of Vince are based in the simple fact that he never gave up. He was never given the privileges many people take for granted. He dropped out of college for several years, but he did return and he did succeed. One of the hidden virtues of academic debate is that the activity is a stepping stone for many participants. It gives students a chance to excel. It gives students a second chance to succeed. Vince Binder took full advantage of the opportunities he was given, never looking back, always looking forward.

 

OK, now, here is my favorite response I got when soliciting for sound-bites about Vince.

Michael Hester, the best coach in debate, and the best ginger in the country writes:

 

 

1)    UWG Debate has a new award named after Vince. the "Vince Binder" award will be awarded to a debater who best exhibits at least one of the following qualities/characteristics:

* "Comeback Player of the Year" – (which is obvi) type persistence, someone who has overcome personal hardships and succeeded in spite of the hurdles they faced;

* someone for whom NO ONE has ever had any criticisms, someone who brings a 100% positive attitude to the squad, whose friendly personality infects the entire program, making every meeting and the entire season through their presence.

 

this award will not be given every year, but ONLY in those years where there is actually someone who meets the above criteria in a way that Vince established with his presence.

 

2) at the beginning of last year my niece Meg had a switch in her teaching duties. due to some budget crises in the county that led to a huge influx of students, she was placed in a different classroom. a couple of months into the semester, her old teaching partner brought her a letter that had been delivered to her old room. it was from Vince. Meg was furious b/c the letter had been delivered prior to Vince's death, and if she had gotten it immediately, she could have thanked him personally. Vince had written a letter to her 5th grade class, and at the top it requested she read it aloud to them. She's never revealed the exact words, and to this day, declines to show it to anyone - it's sort of a private communication between her and Vince. but she did disclose that in addition to telling the students how lucky they were to have Ms. Cannington, it also encouraged them to make the most of their time in school, to never listen to the naysayers who tell them they can't be whatever they want to be, and to give all of their effort to achieving their dreams. Meg couldn't tell us about the letter without getting teary-eyed, and i can't even relay the story without crying. Vince took the time to write a letter to a group of elementary students he would never meet, giving them words of encouragement, a 'pat on the back' from a distance.

 

3) and here's a copy & paste of the message i posted to CEDA forums on 4/20/10:

 

I'll say one thing now and I'm sure I'll be repeating this message many times in the future. This message is for the debate community. His academic efforts over the last two years need to be emphasized. Vince Binder is a GREAT example of someone taking control of their future. West Georgia has had the most prominent examples of this kind of situation, but it's not unique to us: debaters who struggled to handle the academic load early on, who flunked out or just quit, people for whom finishing their college degree should have been easy, but for various reasons never was.

 

We all know the great young debater who couldn't stay focused, did poorly, left college, and never quite found their way back. Some of them are fortunate enough to come from economically privileged backgrounds and/or from family support structures that basically made up for their own individual failures. Those are the lucky ones. For the ones who had to accept the consequences of their less than scholarly behavior, getting back into school and finishing their degree can be extremely difficult. I can't stress enough that College Debate is frequently the lighthouse in the storm for these folks. It is the ONE incentive that encourages them to try again - to come back to college and apply themselves in ways they never did before. From the list of those who follow this path are some of our best success stories. From UWG alone, Kris Bonilla managed to graduate law school, Sarah Holbrook has become one of the top debate coaches in the nation, Joe Koehle is kicking ass at K-State, and Geoff Lundeen is on the path to grad school and will soon add another great mind & heart to the coaching ranks.

 

Vince Binder was blazing that same path. He was never a stud debater. And he damn sure never caught a break in terms of finances or other support. And yet, he not only ended his undergraduate career with a top ten 1st round bid, but earned his degree with a 3.6+ gpa at UWG and did all this while paying his own way through school. Vince Binder is a success story from which all of us can learn a lesson. He didn't get beat down by bad breaks, he took personal responsibility, achieved the goals he set for himself, and did all of this with a friendly demeanor and personality that put everyone around him at ease.

 

Not every debater who's faced tough times and wandered through the drop-out wilderness can be the kind of great guy Vince Binder will always be. But Vince showed that every debater who's wondered if they'll ever make it through the undergraduate jungle need not give up. You CAN succeed.

 

Vince could have accepted the victim label a long time ago, but he didn't. He chose to be a victor instead. While all of his close friends will be remembering Vince Binder for the wonderful, WONDERFUL human being he has been to all of us, those who weren't lucky enough to know Vince that well can at least remember him as a winning example of how to make the most of one's life.

 

I thought it was such an obvious choice for Vince to win the Matt Grindy award for everything that he gave us while he was here. I am very fortunate and thankful to get the chance to talk to all of you about what an amazing guy Vince was, it serves as a constant reminder to keep all of the best things about him with us. We need to remember to appreciate each other, because these are some of the best people we will ever meet, and we can't afford to take that for granted.

 

So again, thank you very much CEDA for recognizing Vince for all of his accomplishments. And thank you so much to Vince Binder for everything brother.

SherryHall

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Re: Vince Binder
« Reply #112 on: March 24, 2011, 05:12:09 AM »
My Friend Vince, a year later.
by Neil W. Blackmon on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 7:23pm

March 22, 2011

 

This is long. You don’t have to read all of it. I hope you’ll read some of it. Or maybe you’ll read it in bits and pieces—that’s fine too. I just wanted you to know how much I miss, and how much I’ll always be affected by, a great friend.

 

It has been almost a year since the world lost Vincent Binder to violence of the most random and senseless sort. Given the reaction since Vince was taken, stating that a year ago the world lost Vince seems far more accurate than suggesting it has been a year since I lost one of my oldest friends in the world. The world lost Vince—that’s a fairer claim, and that’s been the case since he went missing. The dogged determination to find him was the first indication. The shared despair that crept into every day we couldn’t find him was more validation, and one of the worst variety. The grief in the aftermath was too large to measure, but we (the countless who loved Vince) had one another, even when we hadn’t spoken in weeks, months, or years. All of these emotions-- interspersed over the weeks and months after the shock of initial loss, proved the world lost Vince.

 

Shared joy proved it too. Quite often, the desire of humanity is to express loss in celebratory terms. It makes the grieving easier. Funerals are a “celebration of life”, not a solemn exercise in sadness, we like to say. I’ve never been sure if that’s true. I want to believe it is, to be sure. When it comes to Vince—I can’t say. I couldn’t make it to the funeral. I regret that at least once a week. My understanding is that it was a “celebration” of Vince; my heart and memory tell me that it must have been the first “celebration” involving Vince that was bittersweet. One thing is certain: the memories of Vince that have followed, the outpouring of love, solidarity, generosity, kindness and humor we’ve experienced since he was taken have been nothing short of a genuine “celebration.”

 

 Has this celebration also been bittersweet? No question—there is some of that—always will be. There are a host of us (think “host” in the biblical sense of hundreds) who would instantly trade one anecdote, one laugh about Vince for one more hour with him. There’s an anger involved too, in that respect. That’s not a trade we ever thought we’d have to make. To be honest, there’s still a lot of anger. I’d even argue sometimes it gets the better of us, except eventually we realize that to truly celebrate Vince demands that not be the case. He was too busy living, too busy making others laugh to have much time for anger and petty resentment—and heaven knows he had plenty of opportunity to let anger and resentment drive him. He chose life, humor, intelligence, friendships and passion for the day-to-day instead. If you can’t take joy in the menial, in the day-to-day, you’ll never make it here. Vince understood that. We should all live with such passion. If we think of his loss in those terms, a moment of anger is justified. It’s a righteous anger- one about what the world lost, and why it is a little darker here without him.

 

Fortunately, it isn’t darker in the typically cavernous and gray corners of memory. It isn’t darker when one thinks about the various lives Vince affected, how deeply he affected them, and how permanent his impact will be. Those who remember Vince, those still affected by his mere presence in their life, as colleague, as friend, as family member—they remain as bright reminders. In that respect, this note is a long time coming.

 

I’d be dishonest if I wrote that I’d thought about writing this for a year. At first, I wasn’t even sure what to write or say. It was entirely too difficult. I’ve only been able to think coherently (or mostly) about this for the last few months, and as often as I’ve wanted to put these thoughts to paper or computer screen, it has just been too hard, or life has gotten in the way, or I’ve thought, “I’ll write better tomorrow.” In the end, however, this note is a long time coming. When I see the day-to-day impact Vince still has, on others and on me-- I need, if only for cathartic or somewhat selfish reasons, need to write about my friend Vince.

Above all, I hope to write about both the Vince that colors my memory and the Vince that is so visibly present in my day-to-day life. There is, without question, plenty of both. Most of these thoughts could be addressed at greater length. If you read this and are interested—please talk to me about it and Vince—that’s one of my favorite subjects. In the interest of brevity, I’ve tried to limit this to main ideas and memories, thoughts and gratitude. Is some of this about me? Of course. In my view, there’s no other, no better, manner for me to talk about how Vince affected and still affects my life than by writing a few things about me too. Any other discussion would be lacking, and certainly wouldn’t be worthy of what we lost and what we miss; what I miss: my friend Vince.

Vince the Friend When You Needed One Most: Vince was one of the first friends I made after moving to Florida. To suggest I was socially awkward is half-truth: I was worse. I was socially awkward and I was geographically misplaced. Try being an Atlanta kid in khakis and polos and moving to a beach town in South Florida. Tough, especially at an age where we’re all a bit insecure, and I had that flu worse than most. Fortunately, I sat next to a really nice, funny, (at least outwardly) confident kid from “Brooklyn” in English. And in science. And then in history. Alphabetical order matters in life—my friendship with Vince, my life, is proof. Sports was our first bond (was for a long while), but that was enough for him. And even if he didn’t know it—it was just nice to have someone to talk to—and anyone that’s ever spent ten minutes talking to Vince knows he made you feel like the most important person, the only person, in the world when he was talking with you. It won’t be shocking—but that was Vince early in high school too. There was basketball, football games in a backyard where the punishment for not being any good was a lake as a sideline (I was soaking wet nine games out of ten), Tecmo Bowl tournaments—normal things for kids growing up. They weren’t so normal to me, an outsider who never felt completely comfortable in a new town—but early on Vince was there to make things easier on me, to make me feel needed, appreciated, at home. In the wake of my parent’s divorce—that mattered a great deal. That’s why it was easy for me to decide to help Vince when he and Jim Schultz came to me in search of a debate partner.

 

Vince the Debate Partner: Three things immediately come to mind. First, he was patient, and to a fault. Maybe that’s just because he needed me so bad. I’ll never know the answer to that question, but I imagine it was a bit less a case of Vince’s rational self-interest than that, especially towards the end. Mike DeLeonardo and Jim Schultz, who coached us, and who remain two of the most influential people ever to enter my life, probably lost patience with me justifiably on various occasions. Vince never did. It didn’t matter that I read impacts to internal link turns on an econ disad after convincing Vince to run the argument, for example. I’d sit down, suggest that my 1NR was “devastating”, and Vince would smile and say “Whoa now buddy…Simma down!!”, as only he could. Still smiling, he’d be constructive when anger might have been an easier solution. “You realize they internally linked our disad…here’s why….you read impacts to that turn…”

 

We lost a debate or two my first year debating with Vince in just the manner described above, despite his and Jim’s best efforts. But Vince was patient. He waited me out, and by the end of high school, you could argue I was a legitimate complement to Vince. Maybe not a guy who would ever be as talented (not a great deal of debaters were)—but certainly a legitimate partnership. A great number of other partners would have bailed. I’ve coached a few debaters who’ve left more dire situations since.  That wasn’t Vince. He recognized the work I put in to the activity too—recognized, I think, that my biggest fear my first couple years in debate was letting him and Jim down. That’s a heady thing for a seventeen year old kid to figure out—but Vince did. That’s special. That’s only the beginning.

 

Vince the Debater: More special. Most people knew it. One story (among many) is demonstrative. Our senior year we decided to go to the Northwestern Tournament despite zero approval from our school board (who rubber stamped such trips) and despite the fact that our coaches couldn’t make the trip. Two teenagers with my old man’s credit card headed to Chicago to debate in a nationally competitive tournament with no coaching staff. What could go wrong?

 

To begin with: everything. We arrived and neither had the cash for a cab from O’Hare to Evanston. Since I (READ: MY DAD, WHO, BY THE WAY, WAS IN SPAIN) was already expensing most of the trip—I was hoarding cash for food, as was Vince.  Being a Chicago pro (having ridden the L once at debate camp the prior summer)—I assured Vince we could take the train safely to Evanston.  Board the train we did. Get off in Evanston we did not.  For whatever reason (Vince was convinced it was due to our recent viewing of The Blues Brothers), I thought Skokie was the appropriate stop for the Omni Orrington (yes, the old grimy, nasty one). We were half a mile into our walk (debate boxes, luggage and all) towards Evanston when I realized that was incorrect. And that’s when the hand cart broke. We spent the next hour and a half taking turns pushing the cart towards the Omni on one wheel. Once we arrived, the hotel had lost our reservation. No- really. We stayed in hotel rooms with friends from institute, agreeing to meet each other in the morning. At registration, I wrote the name “Neil W. Blackmon” as our coach. The Duck told me he was impressed a couple of coachless kids from Bumfuck, Florida even made it to registration.  By the awards ceremony, six wins and an elim victory later—we were the “coachless wonders” from Beach-Fuck, Florida, and Vince Binder was the eighth speaker. It was a special moment for us when the Duck noted at awards that “This is impressive stuff from the ‘Coachless Wonders’. These guys have rolled through the tournament by winning three arguments: 1) their untopical affirmative is topical; 2) the Clinton Disad; 3) Case Turns.” We might have won, or at least kept winning, at tournament too- but that’s another story- one involving a young Dan Shalmon, alcohol, and a young lady. That’s for another time.

 

In the end, Vince the Debater overlapped with the two sides of Vince described above I got to know so well. He was a debate partner, but above all, he was a friend when I needed one most. Knowing that to debate collegiately I’d have to begin giving more difficult speeches, Vince turned the affirmative reins over to me at the season’s final tournaments. “You’ve earned it,” he’d say confidently when I wasn’t so sure. His fire to win and his passion for debate are mostly unparalleled. He also didn’t believe they were mutually exclusive with friendship. That level of confidence he had in me is something I never forgot as my own career proceeded. It is something I’ll never forget in life. It was a big step- and one he and Jim Schultz took together. I lost one half of that great friendship nearly a year ago. I’m blessed to still have Jim, who shares so many of Vince’s tremendous qualities.

 

I’m also blessed to have Frank Irizarry, my college debate coach, and Morgan Weinstein, my last partner at Florida. The honest truth is I’d have lost Morgan years ago if not for the memory of how Vince had treated me as a young debater. As it happened, I had to learn the hard way. Indeed, Vince’s patience was a virtue I should have remembered better. It took making mistakes with future partners, particularly with Morgan Weinstein, to remember patience was essential to an effective debate partnership. Regrettably, I lost my cool and patience with Morgan when he was a freshmen. Following a tournament in Texas, I said some things I never should have thought, much less said. I lost a semester of debate in the aftermath of that incident, debating with floating partnerships and mired in competitive failure. It took a sit down with Frank (a sometimes intimidating proposition, if you know the Big Papa) to remind me of my background, and to remind me how much more I needed to improve as a debater. What I did early on with Morgan—suffice it to say that’s not how Vince would have done it, and I’m fortunate to have come to that realization before it was too late. My life wouldn’t be the same with my friend Morgan—and at base, I can thank Vince’s patience with me as a young debater for that friendship. His treatment of me was a stark reminder that bitterness, resentment, and anger don’t develop talent.

 

Vince at Florida:  As most of us know, things got tougher for Vince after high school. Vince was not immune to the mistakes all people make in day-to-day life. His own personal mistakes set him back quite a bit—most of us know that too. What’s remarkable, what matters, of course, is his response in the face of that adversity. The final chapters of that long road back began at the University of Florida. I saw Vince only sparingly in the years between his departure from Florida State and arrival in Gainesville, and to say it was an enormous blessing to have him back in my life on a normal basis is putting it mildly.

 

Beyond my personal feelings of joy, the impact of Vince’s time in Gainesville was tangible. He provided Gator Debate with partnership flexibility, something lacking since my departure. He provided the city itself with its most unwilling Gator, even borrowing (read stealing) my Auburn ball cap to wear at Dragonfly, the wonderful restaurant where he worked, on game days. Vince took joy in staging protests to his own social location as a University of Florida student. No Gator student has ever cheered harder for Auburn, or celebrated more after a home loss to Ole Miss. But Vince’s time in Gainesville was mostly about his achievement—getting past his mistakes and moving forward in life. Going back to school,  getting back on his feet, and perhaps not slightest of all, getting back involved in debate.

 

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who loved debate more than Vince. The first few conversations about debate with Vince upon his return to Gainesville remain among the most personally gratifying discussions I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed having a drinking buddy back when Vince returned to Florida too. It’s hard to not enjoy a guy who started counting down to St. Patrick’s Day on his voicemail the day after St. Patrick’s Day. It’s hard to not enjoy a guy who takes his hat off at a Boston T station, sets it right next to a subway musician, and does push-ups genuinely expecting people to give him change. I cherished those days too. But above all, Vince and I loved to talk about debate.

 

At his core, Vince believed in debate, cherished the friendships made in debate and believed in an attendant transformative power of community that was present simply by one’s participation in the community. That’s pretty powerful stuff, and it was exactly those sorts of conversations I had in my few opportunities to work with Vince while he was debating at Florida that resonated with me when I decided to get back involved in the activity two years ago upon moving to Atlanta. That decision was a splendid one, and again I can thank Vince. Working with Josh Grace, Stephen Heidt, Joe Bellon, Andrew Barnes and Zach Schaller at GSU the past two years has been an unforgettable experience, and one that I truly believe has laid a foundation for a few friendships that have been life-altering, rewarding, and above all, lasting. Debate is full of these types of remarkable people—which is why it is easier to put on a bittersweet smile and say with a full heart that the greatest of my debate friendships was the one I forged with Vince.  That’s why I’ll close writing about Vince as I left him.

 

Vince, as I last saw him: This was the only place to finish. I arrived in Dallas for the National Debate Tournament last night, almost a year after I last saw Vince. There’s a reasonable chance this is the end of the debate game for me for a while, and that’s fine. If it is, there’s only one way to leave: giving everything I have to help two kids achieve tremendous things in a tournament that is the pinnacle of an activity that has given me so much. That’s what Vince would have done. That’s what I’ll do.

 

I saw him almost a year ago at CEDA Nationals- he came strolling towards the hotel bar in Oakland where I was sitting cutting politics cards. Big smile on his face, “Neil, Neil, Dirty ol’ Neil”, he said. I think we were equally surprised and thrilled to see one another. That week was full of the usual things for me and Vince—drinks in the evening, talks about sports, more discussions about debate, about his career at West Georgia and debating with Schultz, hopes for Josh and Tater’s senior year at Georgia State. Vince even helped me cut a counterplan for a debate with Baylor that ultimately never happened. It had a flaw (I wrote it); Vince corrected it. (A partner to the end, in some respects).

 

The last night I spent hanging with Vince we went to sushi in Jack London Square. Vince loved sushi and always wanted to see if the restaurants elsewhere compared to Dragonfly, where he'd worked in Gainesville and one of the best in the business, anywhere, he said.

 

First of all, there were folks dressed like Bentley Fonsworth—literally umbrellas and everything-- at this place—which we thought was a bit odd. We knew it was a nice sushi restaurant (the prices said so), but we didn’t know there was a jazz club in the back until Vince asked a guy dressed in an all-white suit with a purple cane what the deal was on our way out. Natalie Cole was playing here tonight, he said. The restaurant was attached to a world famous jazz club. “There it is!”, Vince said, and that was that. We laughed about it for a solid ten minutes and that was that.

 

Over sushi and sake (Vince explained several sake-quality distinctions to me—I can almost sound like an expert now), we talked mostly about Vince. His life at Florida State—how he loved teaching, coaching. How he had enjoyed seeing one of his best friends, Danielle Hegedus, in Atlanta only weeks prior—how he thought Atlanta was a good place to live and how I should move to Little Five Points, which he thought would be a “great neighborhood to live in.” We talked about his research he was doing and how he enjoyed visiting the Carter Center on his trip to Atlanta, how he hoped to get back up there soon. We talked about his future after FSU—law school probably, though academia was growing on him, becoming a genuinely appealing alternative. We talked about the friends he’d made since returning to Tallahassee, how he felt like it was a great place for him at this point in his life, and how excited he was for the future. I told him how happy I was for him—he told me to hang in there career-wise. I was smart, he said—things would turn around, something positive and terrific would come my way. He got to debate with me when he had no partner, he reminded me. Sometimes you just have be a little more patient. He was right, is right. I remember leaving Oakland thinking I’d just seen Vince at his best, but not nearly at his pinnacle. A phone call from Jim a week later changed everything—well, most things. It didn’t change how much an impact Vince had, and still has, on me as a person. And that last impression will always be another reason I’m driven every day to be a better person than I was the day before—one worthy of a friend like Vince.

 

Thanks for reading.-- Neil W. Blackmon