McKay Hatch had an interesting transition from elementary school to middle school to high school. Not every kid gets a chance to be on "The Tonight Show," chatting it up with Jay Leno. And not every kid gets bomb threats that the FBI considers legit.
Hatch has experienced both and more, after gaining attention for starting a "No Cussing Club" that has incurred both praise and wrath. His school club's activities have ballooned to a Web site that has 30,000 people committed to keeping their language clean and springboarded Hatch to media coverage reaching to newspapers in Taiwan and Korea.
On Saturday while in Salt Lake City, Hatch stood in a house of words to spread the word about bad words.
"I thought it would be something just in our city," the 16-year-old from South Pasadena, Calif., said while at the Sweet Library. "Of course, it's gotten a lot bigger and it's been about to spread the word about using good and positive language, which is nice."
Hatch was in town to help Mrs. Utah, Karmel Larson, launch her "T.E.A.M. Decency" activities.
Hatch was amazed at the amount of cussing that occurred in his middle school when he started sixth grade. Cussing didn't happen in grade school, but "everybody cussed" in middle school, he said. "And it wasn't like they were using it when they stubbed their toe. They were using it every other word," he said.
Having "never really cussed," Hatch was bothered so much by the profanities that he challenged his friends to refrain from rough language. They did. And the idea blossomed to a school club in 2007, then to a Web site (www.nocussingclub.com) that now has no-cuss commitments from people in all 50 states and a few dozen countries.
He's been hassled and threatened and cussed at, including "50 to 100 times" at a high school club sign-up event, he said. He's had hate mail. Thousands of dollars' worth of pizzas prank-called for delivery to his home. Death and bomb threats. Hackings that put porn on the Web site.
But he's also seen the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declare "No Cussing Week." He's appeared with Leno and on "The Dr. Phil Show," "Good Morning America" and "The Early Show," among others. He's had speaking engagements and written a book. Passengers on a recent Southwest Airlines flight burst into applause after the pilot told them that the founder of the "No Cussing Club" was aboard.
All for a kid whose most frustrating moments elicit a "flip!" or "dang!" or "pickle!" or some other swearing substitute.
"A lot of people are saying, 'Words don't have any meaning. Why are you doing this? It doesn't really have any effect.' But words are more powerful than people think," Hatch said.
"I got an e-mail from someone who said, 'Your words become your actions, your actions become your behavior, your behavior becomes your character, and your character becomes your destiny.' So your words become where you're going.
"I think that this is something that is good and needs to be in the world right now, so I'll do it as long as it will go."