Coaches’ Conversation

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, the Ohio Speech and Debate Association’s Board of Directors proudly unveils what we hope is a new, regular feature in OHIOspeaks—something we’re calling “Coaches’ Conversation.”  {The title still is in alpha testing, but that’s its name for now!)

We as coaches certainly have much to appreciate as our teams finish the first third of the OSDA regular season.  We appreciate our competitors for their effort, their willingness to learn and develop skills through practice, performance, and patience; we appreciate our judges who selflessly donate their time and talent on Saturdays so that we can provide students (and each other) with this life-enriching activity.

Not to be forgotten, your dedication and commitment as an OSDA coach inspires not only your students—but also your peers.  Periodically throughout the season, we’ll try to feature 1-3 coaches’ perspectives on various matters ranging from team-building strategies, to lasting memories, to opinions on OSDA policies.

Whether you’re a grizzled, veteran head coach of 15+ years’ experience—or a first-year assistant still trying to figure out just how the heck Policy Debate works—this is an opportunity to showcase our OSDA family by sharing some insight, and through simply getting to know each other a little better.

We give thanks this week especially to Carrie Spina of both Tusky Valley & Fairless (Canton), and to Jeri Neidhard of Centerville (GMV), who each took time to share responses to several questions.

In closing, both personally and on behalf of the OSDA Board of Directors, I hope you enjoy reading the first “Coaches’ Conversation”; we wish you safe travels this weekend; and may you share a wonderful holiday with those you love.

Thank you,

Ryan Peoples (Berea-Midpark, CLE)

Editor-in-Chief, OHIOspeaks


Coaches’ Conversation

featuring Carrie Spina (Tusky Valley & Fairless, CAN) and Jeri Neidhard (Centerville, GMV)

How long have you been coaching?


Technically, I have been coaching for six years; however, I did help the Swinks out at Canton South a few times.  Canton South is where I graduated from.  The Swinks were fantastic coaches and I feel I learned from the best!

Currently, my assistant coach is my daughter Cierra Spina, who was one of my original competitors.


My first year of coaching was 1983 when I was the head speech coach at Springfield North High School, also in the GMV.  When I transferred to Centerville in 1984, I was expressly told to focus on theatre, not Speech and Debate.  Behind the scenes, I coached Duet Acting and had a team reach 4th in the State when it was held at Fairmont West High School in 1990 (or thereabout).  I continued to help out strictly as a judge at Districts and States until 2007, when I was asked to take over for the head coach who was retiring.


What advice would you give new/young coaches who are just getting started with their new programs/with this activity?


Speech and Debate provides the opportunity to witness each student grow and develop.  Although I appreciated that similar opportunity in the classroom, working with the same kids for months at a time over four years of high school has been an awesome and humbling experience.  New coaches, please know what a difference you are about to make.  You will watch every student find his or her voice. . .and the belief that s/he can make a difference in the world.  These students, too, will become your family.  They will be there for you as much as you are for them. . .and that is a blessing.

Be patient.  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Remind yourself and your students that this activity is all about having fun, and if you’re not having fun, then you should not invest yourself in the process.  Reach out to other coaches who have “been there and done that.”  I was lucky enough to be coached myself by three Hall of Fame Coaches—Ralph Bender, Elaine Daly, and Lynne Bustle—and I was witness to the incredible devotion they had to this activity.


My advice would be to take your new team to as many tournaments as possible.  Shadow a school in your district and ask them to mentor you!  (My mentor was Missy Stertzbach from North Canton Hoover.)

Coaches are only a phone call away, so don’t hesitate to ask questions.


What has been the most successful way your team raises funds?  (Please provide some details/description.)


We have a speech showcase in our Theatre every year, both one for the public and one during the day for students!  This helps us recruit students, and we raise around $1,500 annually.

Having a tournament is also a wonderful way to raise money.  My first host tournament was during my second year of coaching, and we only had 8 students on our team.  My district supported us along the way and this really helped our team grow and raise funds!


I have simply continued what our previous coaches have done.  I have also spearheaded ways to help National Qualifiers raise money by performing for local civic groups and churches.

Last year, we began (what we hope will be) an annual event called “Dinner and a Show” where the local Sons of Italy provided a buffet dinner, the students collected donations for silent-auction gift baskets—and then they entertained the audience with their events.  (Even part of a Public Forum round and a Congressional Debate speech, followed by questioning and directed by a presiding officer, were included.)  We made far more money on that event than we had anticipated, so now if we actually work to ADVERTISE it this year, it will be even better.

We are lucky because our district helps with transportation costs and coach hotel rooms, but we use a lot of money for resources—from Congressional Debate to POI to USX prep.


Do you have a favorite event to coach?  If so, why that event?  If not, what’s one you just enjoy much, and why?


Honestly, I love to coach everything.  I have never coached Policy or PF, but I love the challenges in each of the other events.  My personality is both analytical and artistic, so Speech and Debate is the perfect outlet for me to help kids explore motivation and character, hone their oratory skills, and develop a critical assessment of the world WITHOUT succumbing to the fake news that surrounds them on social media (and as repeated by family and friends).

In a single day, I can honestly coach every category!  For instance, on Wednesdays I coach any IE event during lunch, then IX, USX and Congress from 3:00 to 5:00 PM, followed by open sessions with kids from 5:30 until 8:00 PM.  I am extremely grateful for my assistant coach, Elaine Daly and our new PF coach this year, Wooster graduate Eric Belcik.

I provide NO group coaching except for Extemp and Congress; everything else is 20 minute one-on-one coaching sessions.

In closing, I just want to thank the incredible coaches of Ohio for providing a home for me.  When I was in high school, Speech and Theatre was my escape from a not-so-perfect home life.  Now as an adult, I am still reaping the benefits of participation!


I love them all…. However, everyone knows my favorite is Humor!

I was a Drama [-Interp competitor] in high school, so that’s a close second, but we have had a lot of success with humor!  It’s so fun to help create voices, sound effects, and blocking with these funny kids!

We had our first state championship in Humor and have gone to Nationals four of our six years as a team with Humor!  It’s just so much fun.