This weekend’s Opening Ceremony will feature speeches from two new OSDA Coaches Hall of Fame inductees (Jodi West and John Weaver). In anticipation of these upcoming speeches, here is a look back at one of last year’s inductees, Alan Bates of Princeton High School (GMV).
May it inspire you and your fellow coaches.
To the students, to the coaches, to the parents, to the judges, to friends, to the administrators, and to the family members—I want you to know one thing: you have chosen the right path.
I entered high school in the eighties. Yes, that’s right—go ahead, count up how old I am. It is the great genes that I have (thanks to my mother and father) that I don’t appear at all to be a high school student from the eighties. But that, in fact, was when I entered high school. A shy, short boy wearing glasses—and looking much younger than I was—entered this enormous school called Princeton High School, trying to find my path, my direction.
My sister had just finished her experience in high school that Spring prior to me entering the building. And she made her mark—in theater—commanding the stage with that oh-so-powerful voice, and people remembered her as Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Everywhere I went, I would hear, “Your sister was GREAT as Bloody Mary. What is she doing now?” And so I knew that I had two choices: I could follow in her footsteps…or take another path.
I would begin my freshman year in search of that path. I would start off by running for student council, and gaining a position of leadership. I would remain in a leadership role all four years in high school. And that was fine…but that wasn’t enough.
Later I remember walking down the hall—and a very tall, loud teacher and cross-country coach who always hung out in the crowded hallways of our school, basically plucked out any potential athlete that he saw walking the halls. I avoided that man, for I did not ever believe that running long distances could be fun. Unfortunately, one afternoon, I had let my guard down and I felt the strength of this man’s hands coming down on me—and him not asking me, but telling me, that I would be joining the cross-country team, and that I would be seeing him tomorrow at practice. (Needless to say, that was not meant to be my path either. My experience as a member of the cross-country team lasted just one year.)
There is a place for everyone in speech and debate. As a freshman in high school, all Honors English students were required to attend one speech and debate tournament. (Clearly, in the eighties, you were able to get away with making that a requirement; today that would never fly, as all of the coaches know.) But I was, of course, faced with a decision: speech or debate. First, this was somewhat interesting to me because I did like to talk—and the idea of doing it competitively was interesting.
Members from both the speech- and debate teams came in and talked about their events and what it meant to them. It all sounded quite interesting; the problem was that none of them looked like me. The students that came in to talk about speech and debate looked very different than I did—so while it interested me, I have to admit, at that moment I was somewhat reluctant.
“For me, Alan represents a steady voice of reason, and one that I rely on. Alan brings a calm simply by being in one’s presence. I admire him immensely for his dedication to the state, and to maintaining a program at Princeton High School. He is the progeny of Phyllis Barton and has carried on her legacy with the same passion since he stepped back through the doors of his alma mater.
His commitment to debate is an honor to behold and one for which I am very grateful. At our own GMV District Tournament, Princeton High School cancelled all student activities due to snow; Alan still drove to Centerville without his students simply because he wanted to help. That is a testimony to his character.
Thoreau once said that ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ but in Alan Bates we see a man who leads a life of quiet determination—and he makes the forensics world a better place through his actions.”
— Jeri Neidhard, Centerville
In any event, I was more intrigued with debate than with speech; speech sounded more like theater, and as I shared already, I was looking at following a different path than that of my dear sister.
I clearly remember the first day of practice, when I met the woman who changed my life forever. I was sitting in room 515, in the back of the room, of course—when I could hear the voice of 1982 Hall-of-Fame Inductee Mrs. Phyllis Barton. And with the fast pace to which she walked, I could hear her heels hitting the floor of the hallway.
Needless to say, Mrs. Barton had won me over as soon as she entered the room. She was only about 5’4” (tops), but her voice took over a room. When she spoke, you listened! This woman was so compassionate and caring about debate that it was infectious. She truly believed in the impact that the activity could have on a student’s life. She LIVED debate—and her dedication to both the activity and her students has really contributed to my very own passion for the activity.
I joined the debate team that freshmen year and never looked back.
There were challenges during that time, but there were moments that I had with Mrs. Barton that have just stuck with me.
She was truly a competitive woman, and she lived and breathed that competition. And while she was ill during my sophomore year, she bounced back, and her commitment to the four of her senior debaters was uncompromised. We were traveling everywhere: Michigan, New York, Georgia—all which was a violation of the state rules in Ohio then (which is a completely different story for another time…).
Mrs. Barton’s dedication to debate reached an entirely new level in January of my senior year. We were headed to compete at a tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—and yes, we were driving in one of the red-and-grey vans that belonged to Princeton—and yes, Mrs. Barton would be driving us the entire way. As we were loading the van snowflakes were falling, and I recall my mother (who was good friends with Mrs. Barton and who also worked at the high school) asking her if she was sure she wanted to still head out.
The snow was not going to stop us. You see, we were snowed out from attending a tournament the week before, and we would not be snowed out two weeks in a row.
This, of course, is very different than it is today. In the ‘80s, no one questioned Mrs. Barton—nor did they ever concern themselves with where we were going, or how far we were going. Today (as many of us know when we were trying to attend this year’s Sylvania tournament), administrators appear to be much more hands-on. This year on the Thursday before the Sylvania tournament, I received a text-message from my dear friend and colleague Melissa Donahue from Mason asking if we were being allowed to attend the Sylvania tournament; I shared with her that it didn’t seem likely. Her response was the same. But in the 1980’s, there were no administrators putting the kibosh on a trip because of a little snow.
And so, the four of us loaded our evidence boxes into our van. (Yes, back then you had to photocopy all of the articles that you found and then cut them up and paste the evidence onto index cards. You would have thousands of index cards labeled and filed accordingly in these evidence boxes.) You actually did “cut” evidence back then.
“You can’t describe Alan Bates without using the word ‘special.’ He is a gift to the GMV coaches and their students. Although Alan might keep a ‘low profile,’ his dedication to the world of speech and debate has been a strong presence. He has given countless hours not only maintaining his own program, but also serving on GMV-, NSDA Western Ohio District-, and OSDA state committees!
Simply put, he is the epitome of professionalism—a teacher/coach who selflessly strives to better the lives of young people. Alan is a man of great integrity, someone we can count on to give us his best effort, no matter what is asked of him. Having Alan as a part of GMV is truly a blessing, and I consider myself lucky to be able to call him my friend.”
— Elaine Daly, Centerville
We were off to Cedar Rapids, the four seniors and Mrs. Barton. The very idea of driving all the way to Cedar Rapids today is ridiculous, and the idea of Mrs. Barton—who had bounced back from her struggle with cancer—driving us the entire way was even more ridiculous.
But we were off, and night fell upon us quickly as we crossed the Illinois border (the snow falling even more heavily at this point). Mrs. Barton would, every now and then, roll down her window just as the four of us would fall asleep—basically to freeze us out. No, she would not be the only one awake while driving.
I remember the driving becoming more and more tedious because Mrs. Barton spoke less often to the four of us in the van—and focused more on just staying on the road. We entered the city of Peoria (I would find out later), when all of a sudden, I felt the van do a little jerk. I remember Mrs. Barton saying just two words: “Oh, S….”—and before I knew it, we were spinning around on the road and plowing into the median. We ended upside down, on the roof, in the center median. As I gathered my thoughts, before I knew it Mrs. Barton was outside of the van screaming to us to crawl out of the window—and fast because “the van might explode.”
A semi-truck driver had pulled off to the side of the road and invited us into his cabin to stay warm while he radioed for help. An ambulance ride later and we were at the Peoria Hospital. I had a neck-brace on and was wheeled out on a stretcher, and I remember vividly Mrs. Barton coming out in a wheelchair—bandages wrapped around her—smiling as proudly as she could.
You see, despite the fact that the van was totaled—despite the fact that we all were very lucky to be alive—and despite Mrs. Barton’s three broken ribs, Mrs. Barton proclaimed right there in the hospital, “I’m getting us five airline tickets to Cedar Rapids. We are continuing on!”
Here was a lady so full of passion and love for her students and the activity—that all she could think about was moving forward: WE HAD TO DEBATE!
I mentioned already that my mother and Mrs. Barton were close friends. Well, their friendship was put to the test at that moment. Essentially, my mother said that if she didn’t put us on a flight back to Cincinnati, [my mother] would go to the superintendent. Needless to say, while my path did not take me to Cedar Rapids that weekend, it did take me to a point where I became so aware of how dedicated Mrs. Barton was to this activity, and to us!
My last interaction with Mrs. Barton (as a student) is one I will never forget. Our commencement ceremonies at Princeton always had a Class Oration, and it was delivered by a member of the speech and debate team. I was so surprised when Mrs. Barton asked me to do it, and to be honest, I was quite nervous. I worked on the speech all on my own; I didn’t share it with anyone. On the morning of graduation, Mrs. Barton drove to my home and picked me up, and we drove to the high school. She took me into her classroom, and there I gave my speech to her a few times, as she performed her magic of coaching me through it.
On the ride back to my house, I thanked her and told her that I would see her later at graduation. It was then that she stated to me, “Alan, I can’t be there. I’m not prepared to sit through graduation. I already heard what I wanted to hear. You will be great.”
I was initially shocked and saddened that my coach who I had spent four long years with would not attend my graduation. But later I came to understand what she meant by the fact that she couldn’t sit through graduation. As she drove away that afternoon, I knew then that she would have an everlasting impact on my life.
And she has. I chose the right path.
“I’ve been competing, judging, and coaching all in the GMV since 2003, and honestly, I had no idea that Alan wasn’t already Hall of Fame (as of Fall 2017, when I saw his name on the ballot). But I was so glad that I could vote for someone I had seen as a pillar of Speech and Debate my entire S&D career. Alan is timeless (both -looking and in spirit), and what he brings to GMV is discipline, hard work, and professionalism in everything he does for debate. Anyone who tabs debate in GMV was taught by Alan. Every GMV debater for years has had ballots checked or tabbed by Alan Bates, and they were (and are) all fortunate to have had such a good steward of the activity watching over their corner of the OSDA world.”
— Rahul Guha, Beavercreek
Along my journey I have had the support and love of so many people. First, I have to thank my mother and father. The fact that the two of them are both here sharing in this day means the world to me. Especially to my mother who is celebrating her birthday today. (Happy Birthday, Mom.) Mom, from your unwavering support of me as a student and debater in high school, and serving as President of our Parents Booster Group—to your and Dad’s support of me now as a coach—thank you both for puppy-sitting for me, and for providing a second home for my dog from November through March. I love you both.
[Thanks to] My sister: for inspiring me to be my best and to choose my own path. I love you for being here.
To my past and present students that I have coached. Thank you for sharing your weekends with me, and for making me so proud of all that you have achieved.
To an incredibly supportive administration. Your support of speech and debate has been unwavering. Thank you for having so much faith in the program and me.
Marie, thank you for all of your guidance and support, and more important, for your friendship. You just make me smile when we are together. Thank you for always making sure that we “MAKE time” to get together.
To Jeri and Elaine from Centerville: thank you for all of your support, and especially for your support of the GMV District. You two are the best.
To my dear friends who made the trip from Cincinnati! You have supported me 100 percent—even though the activity has kept me away from hanging out with you on some occasions. You are the team’s number-one fans! Thank you for always being there. Your friendship means the world to me.
And finally, to my friends and colleagues that I have coached with! What a joy you have made it for me. You are such a great group of adults, all crazy-in-love with this wonderful activity. We have laughed together and sometimes even disagreed. But inevitably, I know that I have made lifelong friends.
I chose the right path.
“It was a very long time ago that Alan was a member of legendary Phyllis Barton’s Princeton High School Debate Team, and she would be proud of how he has carried her legacy forward to all of us here in Ohio to this very day. Rahul and Elaine are absolutely correct about his professionalism and work ethic. I would add that Alan’s sense of humor makes bearable many a Saturday afternoon otherwise spent wondering, ‘Will we ever get out of here?’ It is a privilege to know and work with him.”
— Steve Stanley, Oakwood
When I first started coaching in 2000, I was coaching Policy Debate. And I followed the path of my dear mentor Marie. In order to be competitive, you had to travel. And I mean travel: to Texas, Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Chicago—we were going everywhere. And each year, we got better and better. I didn’t mind all of the traveling. I was young, and I was truly enjoying myself.
My eighth year into coaching, I had a moment that I will never forget. We were in Atlanta (at Emory), and I stood looking out of the hotel room window—and I was so exhausted and just feeling so uneasy about things. And without any control, I just broke down and started crying.
Standing there alone in my hotel room, I just could not stop crying. I had reached a breaking point that meant I had to make an adjustment. I knew how much I loved this activity, but I also knew that I had to get some balance in my life. And for my own sanity, I made some major adjustments with our program and my coaching.
I share this story because this path hasn’t always been easy. It is difficult sometimes. But it is because of those difficult times that you can appreciate all of the outstanding benefits that speech and debate provide.
I say to you all, as you get ready to compete this weekend, when it is all over—regardless of how many wins you get or 1s you receive—don’t ever forget that you chose the right path: a path of success and failures; a path of laughter and tears; a path that you will remember the rest of your lives.
Enjoy the journey!