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.