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Historical Highlight

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Country Hicks Beat Over Confident Big City Debaters (1918)

"When I matriculated as a freshman at the Snowflake Academy I had graduated three times from the eighth grade, the first time at the age of twelve years. I thought then that anyone who went further than the eighth grade was a sissy, especially if he were a man.

"It was my desire to haunt the cattle ranges as a bowlegged cowpuncher, with a cigarette in one side of my mouth and a plug of tobacco in the other (although I had neither habit at the time and still do not!)  The only reason I attended the Academy was that there was a long line of pasture fence to be built at the ranch. It was certain to fall to my lot to dig the post holes during the long, cold winter. The thought was revolting to me. That winter I passed in only two subjects: Theology and English.

"The pasture fence had not been built when the next year rolled around. I again entered school to avoid fence construction.

"Then a sensational thing happened. There had been a student body president at Brigham Young University by the name of J. Edward Johnson. He was our principal for that year. It was he who fired me with ambition. He was an inspiration and a spectacular man, humble, sincere and dynamic. The very first week of his presence melted my ambition for cowpunching and set me on fire. Coupling this experience with the autobiography of Robert Marion LaFollette (a great Republican senator from Wisconsin), which I had just read, I was not only on my way to Brigham Young University, but I was on my way to the United States Senate..or so I thought!

"My grades came up above average. I went out for debating and managed to make the high school debating team during my last three years. Then in my senior year, in addition to this, I talked my way into winning the championship Samuel F. Smith Oratorical Medal. By that time a cowpuncher was the last thing I wanted to become.

"During my senior year of high school at Snowflake, as a member of the debating team, I learned that we had scheduled a debating contest with Mesa, then a small city a few miles east of Phoenix. The two debaters who showed up best in the competition that year were to receive a railroad trip to Phoenix and then a bus trip over to Mesa.

"A young man by the name of Seymour Fish and I worked like Trojans that we might be the first team. We both made it, and with great excitement looked forward to collecting our prize..the trip.

"It was about the middle of April in Taylor and Snowflake when we got on the train in Holbrook, which was the nearest station to Snowflake. There was great excitement. It was our first trip on a train. As we climbed aboard the passenger car the weather bade us goodbye with hail, rain, sleet and snow.

"A little town west of Holbrook called Ashfork, where the train went on to Los Angeles, there was a spur line from Ashfork to Phoenix. We arrived in Ashfork at about 2 A.M., so excited at the prospects of the big city of Phoenix that we had been unable to sleep. We did finally go to sleep and about 6:00 A.M. we heard the conductor call out, "Phoenix, Phoenix!"  We were between the two little farming communities north of Phoenix, Glendale and Peoria. We looked out the window and to our amazement there were cows and horses grazing "belly" deep in the green fields. We hurriedly dressed and made ready for our arrival in Phoenix.

"I shall never forget the look of the depot. It was an old antiquated building that looked more like a barn than a railroad station.

"However, as we set foot in this station we were greatly excited. Snowflake had a population of six or seven hundred, and Taylor of about three hundred. But Phoenix was a vast city of approximately 20,000 people.

"As we looked down the street from the depot, we were so nervous and upset at being in this big city that we could scarcely talk sensibly.

"We strolled down the street to the place where we were to take the bus to Mesa, only to discover that we had missed the bus. We made inquiry of several people, who looked us over as though our country origins were evident.

"Finally we found our bus to Mesa. It was a big roomy six-cylinder automobile. We boarded it and were on our way. We had decided they would consider us country bumpkins and therefore we had worked unusually hard for long hours that we might not be so considered. Uppermost in our minds was the fear that since we were inexperienced country hicks they would, in all probability, defeat us. However, they had thought the same thing and thus were over confident and had not prepared as well as they might have done. They quickly learned that they could be beaten. When the judges handed in their decision, we had won the debate.

"The following morning, before leaving Mesa for Phoenix, we sent a telegram to Snowflake High School as follows: "We have met the enemy and they are ours. Negative, two, affirmative one!"

"When we arrived in Snowflake the entire town was out to greet us. One would have thought that a great university football team had returned home victorious. There were two or three automobiles in the group, quite a few buggies and numerous wagons, also cowboys on horses, and a large crowd of people on foot. The crowd carried us around on their shoulders and the band played on!"

Excerpt from The Boy from Taylor by Renz Jennings.
Renz graduated from the Academy in 1918.




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