Hall of Fame: One Last Look Back

Dolores Muller PhotoThis weekend’s Opening Ceremony will feature speeches from two new OSDA Coaches Hall of Fame members (Jodi West and John Weaver).  As we get closer to this weekend’s induction speeches, here is a look back at one of last year’s inductees, Dolores Muller of Wauseon (Toledo).

May it inspire you and your fellow coaches.


Thank you, Rick.  You know I have to say what an honor it was to have Mr. Rettig introduce me here today.

I say, “Mr. Rettig,” because around our house that is how he is known.  You see, Rick was my own kids’ original speech coach.  When he started the Wauseon Speech Team back in 1994, our son Paul was one of the first Domestic Extempers for Wauseon.  By Paul’s senior year Rick had built the team to the point that all but two of the team members qualified for State, and that was on a team of about 25 students.

Paul’s younger sister Ginny joined the team [during] her freshman year.  However, near the end of her junior year, Rick announced he was taking a time-out from speech to go to graduate school.   When his assistant also opted to leave Wauseon that summer, they each encouraged me to become the new head coach.  It was a daunting prospect, but I took a deep breath, prayed (a lot), and never looked back. That was 20 years ago, and while at times demanding, they have been 20 of the best years of my life.

Before I go any further, there are some other thank-you’s that I would like to make. I’d like to thank the Wauseon Schools Superintendent, Mr. Larry Brown, for being here today to celebrate with us.  I’d also like to thank our Board of Education for continuing to support the efforts of our team financially and enthusiastically.  Also, one of the students on the original team that was entrusted to me two decades ago is my assistant of 12 years, Jason Robinson.  Although we have somewhat different approaches to coaching—I tend to be the nurturer, and he really likes to win—Jason is a very talented teacher and coach, and Wauseon Speech owes a good deal of its success (especially in the Interp. categories), to his abilities.

I would also like to thank my daughter Betsy and her husband Jonathan for coming here today from Washington, D.C.  During high school, Betsy was a four-year competitor in Duo and D.I., and competed at State each of her four years in high school.  Jonathan was a debater in Michigan where he competed in Research Debate, Policy Debate, and several other categories on the side.  They represent our other four children, all of whom were in speech and are now scattered from coast to coast.  Thanks for continuing to take an interest in what I do, even though your lives have moved well beyond the competitive speech arena.

“Dolores has been a wonderful friend and co-worker through many years of speech together.  I am impressed always by her calm, her kindness, and her patience!  I enjoy laughing with her and commiserating with her during long hours in various tab rooms!  I love watching her work with students, especially her attention to all her students—even those who struggle.  She cares about the whole student, not just the competitor.  She brings out the best in all of them, and this shows in their success both in competition and in life!  She has been a gift to me and to the Toledo/Tarhe District. 
Bless the ‘BWOW’ (which, for me, will always stand for ‘Best Woman of Wauseon’)!”
— Trish Sanders, Notre Dame Academy

And most of all, I would like to thank my husband Larry for his unflagging support through the last 20 years of my being a coach.  A self-proclaimed “speech widower,” he’s up with me every Saturday morning, handing me a travel mug full of hot tea (and a Cliff Bar for the road) as he reminds me of my rallying cry—then runs the errands and does chores around home all day (and usually has a slow-cooker of something tasty waiting when I get home that night).  He has always been there to listen patiently to the ups and downs of this activity we all love, and for that—and his boundless love—I am most grateful.

While thinking about what I wanted to say to you all today, I found myself considering the spoken word and the power it possesses.  For while it is said that “The pen is mightier than the sword,” the right word spoken in the right way and at the right time can have incalculable power.  But why are our words so important anyway? And why should we weigh them and the impact they can have so carefully before they are spoken?  We all talk (and those of you involved in speech talk a lot).  As a matter of fact, it’s what you choose to get up early and do on Saturdays even in the dead of winter.

But why?

Considering the power of words, I found myself asking, “How many words do we speak in a lifetime?” According to British writer, actor, broadcaster, and self- professed “word person” and Scrabble fanatic Gyles Brandreth—the average person will speak 860 million, 341 thousand, 500 words in his lifetime.  To put that figure into perspective for you, that is the equivalent of:

  • the entire text of the complete 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary—more than 14.5 times over; or
  • the King James Bible (Old- and New Testaments)—more than 1,110 times over.

Now there are two ways that we can think about this statistic: 1) that talk is cheap and can afford to be squandered; and 2) that we have over 860 million opportunities to utter words for the betterment of those upon whose ears they fall.  860 million chances to improve the world and the situations in which we find ourselves.  860 million opportunities to say the right thing in the right way that will build up or break down, hurt or heal, curse or bless.

“Describing Dolores Muller in a few words is utterly impossible.  She is perfection in a blazer, the calm in every tab room, and a whisper of encouragement when you need it most.  Dolores is a loyal friend, a dedicated coach, mother, and wife—and always willing to spend extra hours to coordinate room assignments for a tournament after a water-main closes down an entire wing of her building the night before districts. 🙂
Dolores Muller is a rock star.  She is ‘Hall of Fame’ in a nutshell.  She is a representation of Toledo District and what we stand for in every sense of ethical and responsible promotion of speech and debate at the local, state, and national level.”
— Heidi Mekus, Napoleon

We can, no doubt, each think of times when our words might have been better chosen or more eloquently spoken.  But as the individuals who have the unique opportunity at this point in history to be the leaders in the market of the spoken word, it is incumbent upon us that we choose to speak the words that will promote growth and understanding in our world rather than hatred and divisiveness.

Now I want you to take a moment to think back to the first words you uttered today.

Okay, have you got them?  Now consider if they were words of praise or complaint, encouragement or fear.  Did they promote understanding of those around you, or confusion?  Now I know that perhaps not everything we say has a lasting impact. Some of the things we say are to answer a question or supply needed information—a simple response to a simple request….

But even then, do we supply them in a way that is considerate and thoughtful, or are we tempted to let the exigencies of the moment make us say them in unkind or thoughtless ways?  And then, when we do have the opportunity to say something that really matters, do we avail ourselves of it in a way that contributes positively to the situation at hand?

Do we take the high road and use the words that will lend a positive impetus?

While it has been said that “No man can tame the tongue,” I think that many of you here today would say otherwise, because you have all proven that the tongue can be tamed to some extent.  Each and every one of you here today has either written an oration, or constructed a case, or memorized a script that enables you to demonstrate your ability to “tame the tongue.”

And in the course of mastering the mechanics of delivery and the logical flow of a debate, you have learned what works and what does not.  You have learned that the right gesture, nuanced expression of meaning, facial expression, or tone can have a marked effect on how your message is received.  You are masters of the tongue, and have learned how to make it perform at your will.

“I met Dolores back in 2003 when I qualified my first student to Nationals.  We had the two Duo qualifiers and I was as green as it gets.  She immediately became a friend, a resource, and a rock for me.  Ever since, she has always been there for me and for everyone who calls upon her for support, guidance, and expertise.  I have made so many great friends through this organization, and none more so than Dolores.”
— Bill Prater, Findlay & Whitmer

But as one of my students points out in her speech, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Now that you are masters in the art of speaking, you have the obligation to use that skill responsibly.

Throughout history and in our society today, many of us can think of instances in which words were used to manipulate and misrepresent, to anger and divide, or to reassure and heal.  If there is anything that each and every one of us here today needs to remember, it is to use our words for good.

Many times in your lives you will find yourselves in the position to persuade your listeners to think or act in a particular manner (that will have a definite result).  One can find ample evidence that ours is a divided nation and a world with many people and cultures at odds.  Wouldn’t it be better to use our speaking abilities in a way that will not further widen those divides?  Wouldn’t it be better to think about what we are going to say before we say it, so that what we say leaves the world better than we found it?

Don’t we want to be counted among the people whose words encourage better understanding and lead to the resolution of problems, rather than the escalation of them?  That you are here today leads me to believe you do.

Often there are evils or misdoings that need to be recognized for what they are, and I do not deny that they ought to be.  One of the wonderful things about living in a democratic society is that we can speak our minds and stand up for that in which we believe.  In advocating the use of our words for good, I am not saying that we need to be doormats for everyone and that we can never speak up for what we feel is right.

But in the course of so doing, let’s be sure we have checked our prejudice at the door and have considered all sides of an issue, and the potential impact that our words will have.  Let’s think about what the greater good is, and whom our words might hurt or alienate.

“As a new coach, approaching veteran coaches can be intimidating.  That was never the case with Dolores.  From my very first encounter with her, she has always been down to earth and easy to talk to.  As we have moved from strangers to colleagues to friends, I have come to appreciate her (and her dedication to this activity) even more.  At tournaments, my team and alumni are often as excited to see her as I am.  Dolores is someone who I am very lucky to have in my life.”
— Marie Wetzel, Whitmer

Inspirational writer Lawrence Lovasik once wrote: “Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.”  Let’s make sure that our words, whether to support what we see as a good thing, or to point out what we think is a bad thing,  stand as a kind and creative force that builds up all that is good.

For the past 20 years, I have had the privilege—and it is a privilege—of helping young people to learn how to use their words in a way that I hope has been for good.

In the process, I have learned a lot about myself, as well as what it takes to get people to put their best foot forward.  Because when you come right down to it, speech is all about communication, and as humans we carry it out in one of its most sophisticated forms.  Doesn’t that mean we should be using it effectively to break down barriers and build bridges of goodwill and better understanding?

That is what I challenge each of you to do here this weekend, and what I hope you will take away from this activity long after you have moved forward to wherever your illustrious lives lead you.

Thank you.


Hall of Fame: Another Look Back

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 thesAlanBatese 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!


Hall of Fame: A Look Back

This weekend’s Opening Ceremony will feature speeches from two new OSDA Coaches Hall of Fame inductees (Jodi West and John Weaver).  In preparation for these upcoming speeches, here is a look back at one of last year’s inductees, Jason Habig-for-webHabig of Hathaway Brown School (Cleveland).

May it inspire you and your fellow coaches.


Thank you so very much.  Because of the high regard I have for the great coaches on this stage, in this audience, and coaching Policy Debate in another part of the building—it is truly an honor to be inducted into the Ohio Speech and Debate Association Hall of Fame.

The accomplishments I have achieved during my coaching career have only been possible because of the support of so many people around me.  Thank you to my awesome assistant coach Carrie Cofer, who picks up my slack and makes the program at HB better.

Thank you to Joe Buzzelli, not only for his gracious induction speech, but (most importantly) for getting me involved in this activity.  It is amazing how chance interactions can change our lives forever, and Buzz’s gentle invitation to try debate in 1994, when I was a freshman in his Oral Interp. class, has been one of the most formative events of my life.

To the coaches of the Cleveland District, thank you for the collegial atmosphere and professional development that you have created.  19-year-old me did not think highly of my district, and thought that the national circuit was the place to be; boy, was I wrong.  The coaches of Cleveland truly care for their students and are motivated to do the work necessary to help each child succeed.  It is truly an honor to call you my friends and colleagues.

“Jason is a class act and a role model as a coach, in so many ways.  His focus on the success of all is commendable, and he seldom loses his cool, win or lose.  He inspires me to want to be both a better coach and human being.  Simply put, Jason is a great coach, man, colleague, and friend.” 
— Devon Snook, Vermilion

To Alan and Dolores, it is a gift to share this stage with you today; your service to the OSDA and your careers are a blueprint for the next generation of coaches, as to what excellence looks like.

To my Head of School, Dr. Fran Bisselle, and my Division Director Sharon Baker—who made the trip here today from Cleveland to support me and our team—my heartfelt thank you for your unfailing support and the autonomy you give me as an educator; it is truly a rare privilege to work in an environment where the only question ever asked of me about speech and debate is “How can I help?”

To the men of [St.] Ignatius and the women of Hathaway Brown, who I have had the good fortune to coach, thank you for the time we have spent learning together; I have been continually awed by your many talents and your willingness to share them with the world around you.  You have made every moment of my years coaching a true pleasure.

The hard reality of coaching speech and debate is that the time I spend at tournaments comes at the expense of time with my family.  For 18 of my years coaching, my wife Virginia has often borne the brunt of weekends alone, and extra chores endured, while covering for me.  As someone who strives to be a feminist, I am troubled by the sacrifices she has had to make for me to advance my career, and also I am profoundly grateful for her unwavering support.

Although she has never seen a round of speech and debate, this honor is as much a recognition of her sacrifices as it is of mine.  Taking time away from Ginny to be with my team has always been hard, but it has been doubly challenging in the last six years with my two sons Calvin and Nate as part of our lives.  Nate and Cal, I hope that, someday, you both find mentors who are willing to make sacrifices to help you in the way that I have tried to do for my students.  Being your dad will always be the proudest title that I can ever hold.

“Despite being one of the humblest human beings alive, Jason deserves as much (or more) praise as anyone for his innovation and selflessness.  From the single-day, State-Qualifying Tournament debate model (now affectionately referred to as “The Habig Plan”) to his modified flighting system that renders room limitations a relic of eras past—he continues to devote his interests to making tournaments more efficient, educational, and ethical. He embodies class, and I admire few people more.”
— Ryan Peoples, Berea-Midpark

The hardest thing about not being home on Saturdays during the debate season is missing out on time reading with my sons.  In my house, getting to choose the books we read is quite a competition, and one at which I usually lose.  While Nate prefers a more modern classic (like something by Greg Pizzoli) and Calvin often chooses something from The Berenstain Bears or Mo Willems, when it is my turn to pick the book, I always come back to the same title…so much so that the whole family often groans when I suggest it.

Most of you are probably familiar with Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, but my storybook of choice is one of his less-famous titles called Pierre.  Initially I couldn’t place why I was so drawn to this book, a story of a stubborn young boy who only will answer “I Don’t Care” to every question.  Spoiler alert: after being left alone by his frustrated parents, Pierre is eaten by a visiting lion, only to be saved by a doctor who hits the lion with a folding chair.  This near-death experience helps Pierre to learn the error of his ways, and the story ends with the simple statement: The Moral of Pierre is Care.

In life there are workhorses and show-horses.  I try every day to be a workhorse, and to make caring for students the moral center of my job.  While I work hardest for my own students at Hathaway Brown, coaching in this community means caring about the wellbeing of all of you.  My upbringing played a huge role in helping to shape this worldview, with two parents who were public-school teachers, and who gave freely of their time to the benefit of their district’s students.

My alma matter St. Ignatius continues to be guided by the motto “men for others,” which oriented me during my formative years toward a life of service.  One of the factors that attracted me to start a debate program at HB was the school’s motto “We learn not for school, but for life.”  To me, learning for school is self-focused learning, seeking the most efficient way to move onto the next subject or level of education; on the other hand, learning for life is learning the skills necessary to transform the world into what you want it to be.  In short, I’m drawn to be around people who care more about others than they care about themselves, and I have been blessed to find these opportunities through speech and debate.

“Jason Habig puts his heart and soul into Speech and Debate.  Yet even with his passion, he has amazing patience in dealing with the problems before, during, and after a major tournament such as the National Qualifier.  He treats everyone with kindness and respect.  These are some of the reasons he carries so much respect in our district and throughout the state.”
— Mark McCandless, Brecksville-Broadview Heights

In my mind, this activity is the most impressive pedagogical technique for helping students learn to listen, to take notes, to research, and to think critically.  Today, as our nation recognizes National Speech and Debate Education Day, we should celebrate the amazing talents that a training in speech and debate can harness.  My friend and colleague Amy Roediger from Mentor High School often uses the phrase “skills, not scores” to help Ohio’s coaches stay focused on what really matters.  But I’m here to tell you today that—without caring about others, without empathy, and without a desire to make change—all of the skills you master in this activity will fail to reach their full potential.

I know that there are students who participate in speech and debate as a way to build a resume, who use speech and debate as a means to an end, whether that end is college admission or a prestigious career.  And don’t get me wrong, attending a top university and having a successful profession that earns you a comfortable living are great things, but if that is the only factor motivating your participation in speech and debate, you are doing it wrong.

In the last two weeks, our nation has been captivated by the students from Stoneman Douglas High School, the scene of a horrific school shooting.  These students have mesmerized the media, with many pundits asking how can it be that the students are so articulate, so quick on their feet, and so well versed in complex issues of policy.  I would humbly suggest that [these media personalities] should stop by our tournaments each weekend, for if they did, they’d see a generation of students ready to take the world by force.

If they had been at Stoneman Douglas just four days before that school was turned into a crime scene, the media would have seen many of these same students now famous from TV competing in that area’s NSDA national-qualifying tournament; and if reporters are still around in June, they will see these students (and thousands more like them) competing at our national tournament in Ft. Lauderdale.  Robert Runcie, the superintendent of the Broward County schools (where Stoneman Douglas is located), credits the district’s speech and debate program, which is one of the largest in the nation, as a key factor in preparing the students to take on their high-profile advocacy roles.

Whether you agree or not with the change they hope to make, these Stoneman Douglas students illustrate the power that each and every one of you possesses when you combine your speech and debate talents with caring deeply about your world.  It is essential that you hear early and often that this activity can help you move mountains, but only if you care enough to employ your skills in that moving.  Every single one of the adults who helps run this activity in Ohio—from the most accomplished coach to the most inexperienced novice judge—comes to tournaments on Saturday because they believe in your power to make the future better; please use that power to choose to care about the wider world.

“Jason is not only an amazing coach, but also an amazing teacher.  I can rely on Jason to always be willing to help the district with debate issues and questions.  His calm demeanor has often diffused even the most irate of coaches.  He offered me the opportunity to coach at HB and trusts the speech team to me.  I always will be grateful for his friendship and trust.”
— Carrie Cofer, HB & Rhodes

One of the most important new testament parables commands us not to put our lamp under a bushel, but instead to let it shine before all; similarly, don’t hog your many talents and use them just to benefit yourself; instead care enough about others to put them to good use fighting to make a better and more inclusive society for all of those that come after you.

As you prepare for competition this weekend, in what is for many of you a capstone to a successful season, or maybe even a successful career of competition, please consider prioritizing gratitude for the wellbeing of this activity at least as much as you care about your own personal success.  I’d like to think that our league starts this tournament with this opening ceremony to help ground us about what really matters—and not just to subject you to lengthy speeches by people most of you have never met.

What really matters this weekend is the long-term success of each and every one of you, not just those who end the weekend victorious and who grace this stage tomorrow night.  Winning can be fun, but in a world where we are often too focused on ourselves, winning can lead to the mentality that Pierre has in the Sendak book: a mentality that makes life centered around your own accomplishments and allows you to say “I don’t care” to everything else.

This weekend, care for each other and treat your opponents with the respect that they deserve.  Avoid saying, “I don’t care,” when confronted with the reality that even after 90 years in Ohio, our event still has a significant gender-bias problem, as a quick glance at last year’s circle of champions (in Cleveland)—and of the @HBSpeechDebate twitter feed—would demonstrate.

You can’t say “I don’t care” when acknowledging that, in the Cleveland District (and likely yours, as well), we can easily fill buses of students each Saturday from private schools like mine, or wealthy outer-ring suburbs—yet we can’t get schools in the urban core to compete at even a fraction of that level.

We can’t say “I don’t care” when recognizing that the entire southeastern quadrant of Ohio lacks even one speech and debate program, for the students in those high schools who would so greatly benefit from it.

Others before you have cared enough about our community that they have worked tirelessly to make it the space you enjoy today; give of your time and your talents to help it thrive in the future.  For it is only through the hard work of all of you that our association will be able to celebrate 90 more years of educating the best and brightest Ohio has to offer.

“Jason Habig is a wonderful coach, and even better, a great administrator for the North Coast District.  I have yet to see him stressed, though I’m sure there are times when he is.  I feel confident that his students are well prepared and that every decision he makes is the right and ethical decision.  Thanks for being one of our leaders, Jason.”
— Fred Snook, Kenston

Whether you finish last this weekend or win the whole damn thing, we are proud of what all of you have built this season, together.  Now more than ever our state and our democracy need you to care enough about your world to put your speech and debate talents to use for those who haven’t had the privilege of the educational opportunities that we sometimes take for granted.  If you commit to caring about others and to using your voice to advocate for the world you want to see, your generation will succeed where those before you have failed.

In the end, someday, when you reflect on a life well lived, the moments that really matter to you will be the ones that you share in reflection with the people who love you.  I hope that, someday, in a quiet moment like that—when, hopefully, you have the pleasure to share a book with a child of your own—you will look back on your time in forensics and think about how this community helped to shape you into the competent and compassionate person you have become.

For only in that moment can the speech and debate coaches of Ohio consider our work a success.

Thank you.


For the Love of Policy Debate

by James Kellams, Debate Coach, Hoover High School (CAN)

Hello, fellow OSDA coaches and friends.  I am James Kellams, currently the debate coach at Hoover High School in North Canton.

At Hoover, I am responsible for teaching the head-to-head, confrontational debate categories of Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas.  But I also teach another form called Policy Debate (PD), or Cross-Examination (CX) Debate, or Two-Person (2P) Debate.

Maybe you’ve heard of it?  I would not be surprised if you’ve heard little about it, nor would I be surprised if you’ve heard only negative things about it.

In general, “Policy” tends to be a unique and often misunderstood form of debate.  It does not fit well with the prevailing Ohio tournament formats because the rounds take way too long to complete; judges tend to be way too highly specialized (thus, difficult to find); and the competitors tend to speak way too fast—so fast, in fact, that some of my colleagues might claim it should not be considered a legitimate communication event.

Personally, I have been involved with Policy Debate in one capacity or another since about late 2005.  Believe me, I’ve heard all the good, the bad, and the ugly.  After all, a category as old as Policy Debate tends to collect a lot of baggage; in fact, it became weighted-down with negativity and nearly died in several Ohio districts.  (The “Queen of Debates” was supplanted by a younger, tournament-friendly, judge-friendly upstart eventually named “Public Forum Debate.”)

But a core group of coaches, judges, and alumni were determined not to allow 2P to disappear, and soon they realized there still existed a very strong recognition (by the then OHSSL Executive Committee) that Policy Debate should continue to be supported in Ohio tournaments by those directors willing to provide the needed competition rooms, tab room space, and printer paper.

As a result of this support over the last few years (yet perhaps unnoticed by some), Policy Debate has had a renaissance of sorts—driven by coaches determined to revive the best of what it used to represent: strong ethics; professionalism; masterful argumentation skills; and most important, a highly educational activity.

Nevertheless, despite the tremendous and exciting resurgence of Policy Debate, there are still many problems for which there are no easy solutions.

Tournament directors take pride in offering fast and highly efficient tournaments. Moreover, the adoption of the Bid Qualifying System in Ohio has been an extremely successful way to ensure excellent competition and maximum attendance at tournaments with limited numbers of rooms and capacity.  Yet while Policy Debate also has adopted new ways to speed up and be more cost efficient (with paperless debate and the National Debate Coaches Association’s open-evidence project)—even the most efficient rounds take at least an hour and a half to complete.

As a result, Policy teams can only debate three rounds while Public Forum and Lincoln-Douglas may debate four or five.  Also, the Pre-District Qualifying (PDQ) tournaments require break-rounds, which (even if started at noon on a Saturday) may often continue past five o’clock in the evening.

Consequently, all too often awards and recognition for Policy Debate success tend to take place mainly within the Policy community, among Policy competitors and coaches and a spattering of Policy judges.  Rarely, it seems, are Policy Debate teams on the stage in front of their school peers, and teams who have no Policy debaters often hear little-to-nothing about the accomplishments of these worthy student competitors.

While tournament-wide recognition of Policy Debate excellence could serve as an incentive to attract others to the extremely enriching tradition of 2P, I understand the logistical problems with hosting this category of competition.  I’ve often walked the cold, dark halls of schools on a Friday or Saturday evening, when few outside of the category are still around.

Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to recognize that these young men and women are continuing a noble tradition—one to which they, too, dedicate countless hours of research, work, and practice to perfect their craft.

They learn traditional argumentation skills, philosophy, critical thinking, research skills, and so much more while gaining an extraordinarily diverse education that will serve them throughout their entire lives.  I know this because I’ve been involved with the activity long enough to witness the fruit it bears.

I encourage you not to forget these students likely still in competition rooms while their classmates gather in the auditorium for awards and honors.  Take a moment to recognize them.  Name them and let them know that what they do is worthwhile.

They will appreciate it so much, and traditionalists like myself will thank you.


One “Heluva” Dilemma: The Social Relevance Factor

by John Weaver, Perry High School (CAN)

I sat around a dining room table with several of my coaching friends one unseasonably warm Saturday evening, decompressing from the day’s events.

My colleagues meticulously examined their students’ critique sheets as I stuffed my face with chips smothered in “Heluva Good!” dip.  I was suddenly taken aback by a groan heard ‘round the world (okay… ‘round the dining room).

“’Be more socially relevant.’  I’m sick of seeing this comment on ballots.”  Between chip-and-dip inhalations, I commiserated with my friends.  I listened as my colleagues evaluated the comment, which slowly descended into a full-on existential crisis.  “Can’t a speech be just that—a speech?”

“Regardless of what we think of this binary view, it exists, and many judges seem to consider these connections in their judgements.”

Can’t a performance just be entertaining, or does it truly have to be a part of some larger commentary?  The answer is simple: it can be whatever a coach and competitor decide it should be.  There is, after all, no OSDA rule stating that the speaker must connect the performance to some greater purpose.

But if the comment is being made—if judges pen the phrase each Saturday morning—it suggests that audiences are thirsty for that connection.

We live in an era of change, debatably one akin to the social movements of the 1960s.  As a result, we read and view stories with a sort of double-vision.  Suddenly, films such as the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters or 2017’s Wonder Woman are heralded as feminist works celebrating the genius of women, as opposed to being merely entertaining stories whose protagonists just happen to be women.

Books such as Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, a young adult novel about an African-American girl shot to death by a white police officer, become exemplars of racial violence and inequality instead of simply being tragic tales about characters who just happen to be different races.  Songs such as Katy Perry’s “Firework” become anthems for the LGBTQAI community instead of simply being songs about general empowerment.

Regardless of what we think of this binary view, it exists, and many judges seem to consider these connections in their judgements.  It could all just be another stylistic anomaly, but the mere fact that it’s a recurring comment suggests otherwise.

I was taught by my coach (some 20 years ago) to always “remember thy audience.”  So we coaches have a choice to make: do we teach our students that their ten minutes should be dedicated to unearthing a buried societal sin, or that their time is best spent helping audiences forget the problems surrounding us?

It’s a complicated question with an even more subjective answer, and one that we must ultimately address on our own.

While a ponderous message is all well and good, how do we find the social commentary in a Don Zolidis piece about a zombie apocalypse?  How do we make amusing-yet-trivial literature something extraordinary?  Again, the answer is simple: we can’t—at least, not in the interpretation of literature events.

There are OSDA rules that prevent us from altering an author’s intent, and if we try to force the literature to fit a mold, it likely will feel inauthentic.  We do, however, have the power to choose material that speaks to a socially aware audience, and it’s not all a litany of Sylvia Plath novels.

“The material is out there for us to rediscover or unearth from obscurity.”

Steve Martin’s The Underpants explores gender politics through a story of a woman who inadvertently moons the king.

Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike considers the demise of family values through three middle-aged, single siblings who are named after their parents’ favorite characters from Chekhov’s plays.

There are so many comedic memoirs by writers the likes of David Sedaris, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling.

The material is out there for us to rediscover or unearth from obscurity.

So here I sit, several weeks later, devouring yet another bag of chips (again slathered in dip), enduring my own existential crisis as I’m inundated by news stories of government shutdowns, border walls, FBI investigations, and arrests.

Despite it all, I take comfort in knowing that, regardless of the decisions I make as a coach, the solutions to our problems can be found in the next generation.