Reflections on the benefits of the 2017 NCFL Grand National Tournament

by Marie Wetzel, Head Coach, Whitmer High School (Tarhe Trails)

As a first-year coach in the Fall of 2013, joining the world of Speech and Debate seemed much like being a first-year teacher, what with all of the acronyms that rolled easily off the tongues of the experienced—as my team just tried to remember which ones stood for our events.

So when I was introduced to yet another acronym (“NCFL”), I initially blew it off as something I could learn about later. After all, as a new coach with a new team, I still thought that qualifying for OHSSL State Finals was the pinnacle for which we aimed to achieve. After qualifying a student (to States) my first two years—with the second qualification being through a “Bigs” final round—I decided that perhaps it was time to look further into what the world of Speech and Debate had to offer.

I had heard grumblings that the National Catholic Forensic League’s (NCFL) Grand National Tournament “isn’t a real Nationals” or worth my time, yet my experience has been that the tournament is what you make of it. Personally, I offer the opportunity to compete at “NCFL” only to those on my team who absolutely have proven that they deserve to be there. For my team, that means (at minimum) success throughout the season and State-qualification, as well as successful achievement of various team expectations related to behavior and teamwork.

While I have found that not everyone in the country shares my perspective, I have also found that the NCFL tournament provides a variety of challenging experiences for competitors. In fact, this year’s 2017 NCFL Grand National Tournament—fondly referred to as “CatNats”—was an amazing example of such opportunities. Each of my qualifiers represents a different way in which NCFL can benefit competitors.

“While I have found that not everyone in the country shares my perspective, I have also found that the NCFL tournament provides a variety of challenging experiences for competitors.”

Seniors Cecilia Caputo and Juliana Janatowski have been with me since my first year as head coach; in many ways, we have learned together. While their original career goal was to qualify for States in Public Forum, they discovered Policy Debate the beginning of their senior year and wondered why they hadn’t competed in that event all along. Their hope was to qualify for NSDA Nationals in Policy, but after a tough loss at Bigs, they ended up first alternates with NSDA just out of reach.

Although they will both be debating on the district’s World Schools team (at NSDA Nationals), CatNats was a chance for them to end their careers in Policy at a national tournament, and to experience some of the more extreme shenanigans that Policy Debate has to offer…one last time. According to Cecilia, “I was happy to have CatNats be the last tournament where Juliana and I could compete [in Policy Debate] because we were able to compete with people at the same skill level as ourselves, and to compete against some of the cases we had hoped to see all year.”

Junior Seth Ramm was a quick study his sophomore year and found success quickly as he worked hard in International Extemp, qualifying to NSDA in Birmingham this summer. For Seth, CatNats was a fantastic bridge to NSDA. He was able to compete against some/many of the other “Extempers” whom he may face in June, and both he and we coaches were able to get 15 critique sheets from judges across the country who provided valuable feedback in our preparation for NSDA just a few weeks later.

Seth explained that “the diversity of judges and judging styles helped me improve overall to become more well rounded and to prepare for NSDA.” As we prepare for NSDA, Seth’s Octo-finalist finish at NCFL has motivated him to work even harder than usual, and it has given him a focus toward what he needs to improve at the NSDA Nationals level.

“[B]oth he and we coaches were able to get 15 critique sheets from judges across the country who provided valuable feedback in our preparation for NSDA just a few weeks later.”

Freshmen Kate Inman and Michelle Zheng, a team formed in January (after I finally convinced them that they were misplaced in Public Forum and Congress respectively) comprised my final entry in Policy Debate.  While they quickly fell in love with Policy and did well within our district, NSDA wasn’t an option due to an unplanned trip to Spain; also, five weeks wasn’t quite enough time for them to learn Policy to the extent they needed to perform at States the way they had hoped. Although this team went into CatNats with low expectations, they knew the competition they would face would be tough, and they prepped accordingly.

We coaches went into this tournament simply hoping to give this pairing some competition from which they could learn (as we prepare for three more years of debate). In the end, they were our surprise; although they didn’t break, they ended the tournament with a 2-3 record, splitting the ballots on all three loss rounds. And that wasn’t their only “win.” They learned more than we had hoped, getting to both debate against some great national teams and observe break rounds, which allowed them to sit with coaches during Finals and jot down ideas for next year’s topic.

My competitors this year came out of CatNats energized and ready to work even harder than they had been leading up to the tournament. For the seniors and for Seth, this means preparation for Birmingham. The freshmen already are hard at work for next year, and have voluntarily attended our three-to-five-hour-long Nationals’ practices while everything they learned and experienced is fresh in their minds.

“My competitors this year came out of CatNats energized and ready to work even harder than they had been leading up to the [NSDA] tournament.”

It should be noted that our team wasn’t the only one from Western Ohio who left Louisville with success. The Wauseon High School Duo team of Colton Blanton and Christian Cantu, as well as Notre Dame Academy’s Maddy Vesoulis—who competed in Original Oratory—were both Quarter-Finalists at this year’s “NCFL CatNats” tournament and should be congratulated, as well. #

The Feminist Kritik (Part 2)

Part 2

by Joan Reardon, Grace Haddad, Alexis Santor, Carley Francis,

with technical assistance from Jen Gonda,

Cardinal Mooney High School (Youngstown)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1 was published on May 6, 2017.  You can read Part 1 here.

The first step to identify or support an issue is to gather data, and this was precisely what the analyzers were attempting to do by evaluating 333 ballots. There definitely are limitations to this study because the research team was comprised entirely of women, and each round was looked at only once. It is suggested that another debate team interested in this issue evaluate the ballots following the steps outlined above to see if the results correlate. In doing so, the issue of female debater perception can be analyzed by more debaters in an attempt to problem-solve this situation.

“Based on the study that my team, coach, and I have conducted and submitted, we have found that women are at a disadvantage in debate.  More often than not, women are told they are rude and aggressive when they articulate, while men are applauded for their dominance.  As a 4-year public-forum debater, I have come to realize that these barriers are a real problem that inhibit women from progressing further in debate (or even that cause them to quit altogether and thus not actualize the benefits of debate at all).

 “Our study is not the first to describe this phenomenon.  Daniel Tartakovsky of the Victory Briefs Institute performed a similar study to ours based on National Circuit rounds of Lincoln-Douglas debate.  In his study, he found that males are 12 percent more likely to win elimination rounds than are females; and males are substantially more likely to win preliminary rounds when compared with females.

“It is suggested that another debate team interested in this issue evaluate the ballots following the steps outlined above to see if the results correlate.”

“With one of the mission statements of the OHSSL being ‘to encourage students to develop better understanding and tolerance among students of different schools and communities,’ and ‘to stimulate interest in the solving of social problems and develop well balanced personalities in competitive situations’—I think it is important not only for other [Ohio] debaters to realize this gender-disparity, but also coaches, parents, and judges.

By sharing this message, we hope to bring awareness to this social issue (the way in which female debaters are judged, compared to male debaters), and we aim to reiterate the mission of the Ohio High School Speech League.

Malala Yousafzai put it perfectly when she said, ‘I raise up my voice, not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…. [W]e cannot succeed when half of us are held back.’ ”


The results of the 2017 OHSSL State Tournament confirm the bias and results presented.

Only two women were represented in the top 16 teams in Public Forum Debate, and only one in the top eight. Women who are drawn to debate need to be supported, fostered, and rewarded for their efforts. They need to be aware of the glass ceiling, but be undeterred in their attempt to break it. But most important: judges, coaches, teammates, and tournament organizers need to be cognizant that these biases exist and are continuing to be perpetuated.

“Before every round, my partner Grace reminds me that I have to be nice, no matter what. If the competitor interrupts me, gives me the hand, laughs, scoffs, or shushes me (all of which have happened during a round), I am obligated to smile, wait, and then speak once my competitor is done. I cannot say, ‘Excuse me, may I please finish speaking,’ or ‘Please stop interrupting me,’ or any other variation of the phrase—as I risk losing the round based on my perceived rudeness.

“I will be the first to admit that Grace is much better at following the ‘kindness code’ than I am. I sometimes forget her advice to be nice during crossfires, to smile when requesting prep time, and, of course, to sound as kind as possible when describing a rather dismal political situation. I know that when it comes to debating as a female, kindness is key.

However, kindness can only take a debater so far. I have always known that, no matter what I do, I will not make it past quarterfinals.

“Women who are drawn to debate need . . . to be aware of the glass ceiling, but be undeterred in their attempt to break it.”

As I watch break rounds, I see male debaters use broad gestures, poke fun at their opponents, and speak over their opponent during crossfire. Basically, debaters who make it to high-level break rounds are dominant, passionate, and loud: all characteristics that female debaters are not supposed to possess.

“When a female debater is dominant, they are called ‘rude.’ When they are passionate, she is called ‘emotional.’ When she is loud, she is called ‘boisterous.’

“Female debaters are held to an impossible standard. We must be nice, as Grace always suggests, yet we cannot win the tournament unless we are aggressive. However, when we are aggressive, we lose the round because we are ‘being rude.’

“I hope that, one day, female debaters will be judged less by how they say something, and more by what they are saying, but until then female debaters competing in Ohio will have to continue to smile, get interrupted, and be satisfied competing in accordance with the kindness code.”


As every great debate alumnus knows, the good fight is not complete when you finish that last tournament. Debate ignites the fight for justice and fuels passion with evidence. Minds are forever changed with the ability to critique arguments, analyze empirics, and craft new ideas.

So while the season may be over, we will continue to explore the data. If you are interested in joining the research team, please email

We must kritik the current gender bias in debate.

The Feminist Kritik

by Joan Reardon, Grace Haddad, Alexis Santor, Carley Francis,

with technical assistance from Jen Gonda,

Cardinal Mooney High School (Youngstown)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Part 1 of a two-part series, with Part 2 scheduled for publication next week.


by Rich Kawolics, Chair of the OHSSL Board of Directors

Is there gender bias in debate judging?

Why are male debaters and extempers so much more successful in competition than their female peers? Those of us who coach girls in debate and analytical speaking have long been perplexed by the apparent disparity in success between male and female participants in these events.

We have been concerned that as many as 80 percent of the top places in Policy, Public Forum, Lincoln Douglas, and Extemporaneous Speaking at major tournaments have gone to male competitors, while the number of female competitors in these events seemingly has plummeted. We have shared story after story of our female debaters being criticized for being too aggressive while their male competitors are praised for the same behaviors. But until now, we have had very little data on which to base our concern, and we have certainly had no idea what to do about it.

But now, Coach Jen Gonda and four of her debaters from Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown have taken the first step in putting hard data around perceptions of gender disparity in debate. By carefully analyzing published debate ballots, they have found startling and concerning evidence that female debaters are subject to judges’ criticism for assertiveness far more frequently than are male debaters.

“Coach Jen Gonda and four of her debaters…have taken the first step in putting hard data around perceptions of gender disparity in debate.”

Moreover, they also find that male debaters often are encouraged to be more assertive, while female debaters only rarely receive the same encouragement. Any of us involved in teaching and coaching debate and extemp should be concerned by these findings.

Jen’s (and her team’s) study is not comprehensive, and it is far from conclusive in demonstrating a causal link between gender bias and competitive success. However, it does present a crucial first step in documenting and understanding how gender perceptions and stereotypes may be impacting our female students. If gender bias is diminishing female students’ interest in debate, and if those female students are giving up because they believe the deck is stacked against them, then all of us have a problem.

I commend Jen and her students for their work in bringing this issue to light, and I hope that their work will spur further research into the issue of gender bias in speech and debate so that, ultimately, all of our students can be treated fairly and equitably.


The Feminist Kritik

Part 1

For female debaters, the situation described by sophomore Alexis Santor is all too familiar.

“Being a woman in Public Forum Debate is difficult. I love debating, but I am held to a separate standard than my fellow male debaters. My partner is male and when we are in especially heated rounds, he is complimented for his ‘dominance’ and praised for being assertive, whereas I am critiqued on being ‘rude’ or too aggressive. Once a comment on my ballot said, ‘Alexis, stop being so aggressive, it comes off as rude.’

“The (male) judge failed to comment about how many times I was interrupted, or the behavior of any other debaters in the room, all of whom were male; nor did the judge offer any constructive advice on how to better myself as a debater. My behavior in the round was no different from that of my male competitors or my partner, yet I alone was called rude. That was not the first time I had been singled out on a ballot.” Continue reading The Feminist Kritik

Fixing Congressional Debate

By Tyler R. Parsons

Vermilion H.S. (CLE) Assistant Coach and Experienced Congressional Debate Parliamentarian

Congressional Debate is an event which I love very much; I competed in it for four years, have judged it for three years, and have coached it for one year.  It has positively affected my life and the lives of many others who have competed in the event.  However, because I love Congressional Debate, I’ve come to realize that it is a flawed event and in need of an intervention.

Through my own analysis of the situation (and vibrant discussions with other Parliamentarians), I have come to the conclusion that Congressional Debate needs a comprehensive, foundational overhaul—specifically regarding the legislation, the scoring system (base), and how speeches/speakers themselves are judged.  Only through rebuilding this flawed foundation will the event operate effectively and generate truly great debate. Continue reading Fixing Congressional Debate

Rep Your Event 2017 voting is online!

“You get to decide who wins the $100 scholarship from the OHSSL.”

At the State Tournament 2017 in Cleveland, the Board of Directors had narrowed the “RYE” finalists to the following two videos before the Awards Ceremony. Unfortunately, during the ceremony there were some technical issues that prevented the videos from being displayed in the auditorium.

Nevertheless, each video (and each competitor/filmmaker) deserves YOUR consideration for the titles of 2017 RYE Champion and Runner-Up. With the State Tournament behind us and the end of the school year approaching, we ask that you watch each video and cast your vote for this year’s best RYE entry.

Each competitor was tasked with doing his or her best to encapsulate, within a 1-minute video, what makes a particular competitive OHSSL event great.  This year’s finalists represent the events of Duo- and Humorous Interpretation.

YOU get to decide who wins the $100 scholarship from the OHSSL.

Head to or click the link right here to vote.

Voting will end at 11:59 PM EST on Sunday, May 7, 2017. The winner and runner-up will be declared on Monday, May 8.

Vote now!

Lights! Camera! Action! “Rep Your Event” Video Contest Is Back (2017)

The OHSSL is excited to announce “Rep Your Event” 2017!

Contest Rules & Guidelines:

  • Create a 1-minute video encapsulating what makes your OHSSL competitive event great.
  • Voiceovers, interviews, and demonstrating the event are all allowed.  There are multiple ways to present your message, but performance clips are encouraged.
  • All videos must be appropriate for public display.  Use discretion.
  • HOW TO SUBMIT: Post your video to YouTube and send a link to the OHSSL at
  • DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: Friday, February 10, 2017

Winning Entries:

  • The top finalist videos will be shown (and their submitters/producers will be recognized) at the State Tournament Awards Assembly at Berea-Midpark/Olmsted Falls in March 2017;
    • Top finalist entries will be determined by the OHSSL Board of Directors;
  • The Grand Prize Winner, who will be determined at the State Tournament in March, will win a $100 scholarship and will have his or her video added to the OHSSL web site.  (The OHSSL reserves the right to award additional prizes.)

DISCLAIMER: By submitting a video to this contest, or by assisting with production of a video submitted to this contest, you acknowledge that OHSSL retains the right to use any submitted video, or portions (including still images) thereof, for promotional purposes.

Lights!  Camera!  Action!  We look forward to seeing your creative vision.

In Defense of Judge Intervention… Sort of…

james-lewisby James Lewis

Assistant Coach, University School (Cleveland)

Every weekend before tournaments across the state of Ohio, debate judges are given instructions to prepare them for the task ahead. This year at the OHSSL State Tournament I had a flash of sudden insight (or idiocy, depending on your perspective) in the midst of judging instructions.

A member of the tab room staff was telling us that we might know that arguments/claims made in the round are wrong, but that we should essentially refrain from intervening unless the other side pointed that out. I nodded along in agreement as I usually do, until I was struck (at probably the worst possible moment: the State Tournament) by an insight:

I actually don’t agree with that standard in judging debate.

I have been judging debate of some form for almost fifteen years now and have heard my share of bad arguments, mangled evidence, and untrue statements.

Because I try to familiarize myself with some of the topic literature in preparing for a resolution—and because I happen to have an uncanny memory for certain things—I know when debaters are taking a quotation from an article out of context.

Personally, I majored in political science at a school where philosophy was prioritized, and I feel that experience helps me recognize when debaters are misapplying and misconstruing John Locke’s Second Treatise. Professionally, I teach both American- and Ancient History, so I am fairly well versed in a wide range of subjects; and, like many judges, I happen to know a little about current events and how the world works.

And because I had a solid liberal arts education, I know rot when I hear it. Continue reading In Defense of Judge Intervention… Sort of…

Inspiration for 2016-17: Impact that Lasts a Lifetime

2015-16: A Reflection

by Jordyn Zimmerman, Mentor HS (CLE) Class of 21016; 2015-16 National Speech & Debate Association National Student-of-the-Year Finalist; current Bobcat Speech & Debate team member at Ohio University

“Through speech and debate, we can create inclusive communities where everyone has the opportunity to tell his or her story.”

When I switched to Mentor High School for the 2015-16 school year, I never envisioned myself joining the speech and debate team.  However, that all changed when I addressed Mentor School’s staff on opening day and one of the coaches publicly asked if I wanted to join the team.

Although I thought she was joking at the time, the superintendent convinced me otherwise.  On the first day of school, I was unofficially a member of Mentor’s speech and debate team, and by October, I had an informative speech ready to go.

My first competition was in December. Even though I spent my time rocking back and forth, essentially ignoring the world around me, I was hooked within just a few minutes of being in my first round.  I walked away from my first tournament with some fairly good rankings, which I didn’t deserve.

For the first couple months, I wasn’t able to keep eye contact with the judges and simultaneously gesturing while using my iPad seemed nearly impossible.  Yet, every Saturday I competed and the Cleveland District embraced a new way of thinking. Continue reading Inspiration for 2016-17: Impact that Lasts a Lifetime

Motivation for 2016-17: Reflecting on March


2016 HOF Inductee Amy Roediger (Shaker Hts.; Mentor, CLE)

The following is another memorable speech from March’s HOF Induction Ceremony in Princeton, given by Amy Roediger of Mentor (Cleveland).

May it inspire you and your team in preparation for the upcoming season.


March 4, 2016 – Princeton HS (GMV) – State Finals

Before I say anything else, I want to express my congratulations to Missy [Stertzbach, fellow inductee] and also recognize Pam Pesa, Dale Schilling, and Chad Ries.  I would be thrilled to be included in just a sentence with these people; to have shared the Hall-of-Fame ballot with them is such an honor.

A lot of people are talking this season about the use of visual aids in Informative Speaking, so it must be a little-known fact that visual aids have been allowed in Congress for some time.  In fact, a couple of years ago, I suggested to my Congress team that we start bringing a felt board to tournaments so that we could make spontaneous visual aids as we needed them.

We could place different-colored people on the board to match up with statistics like “Three out of five people support a piece of legislation…,” or use pieces of circles to make pie charts.  Well, I got that far before one of my Congress kids placed a circle on the board and said, “One hundred percent of us think this is a terrible idea.”

Somehow, though, when I would be the one speaking in front of 1200 people, they suddenly thought the felt board was a tremendous idea.  I guess there is no turning back now, so here are my 10 words and a felt board.

One of the many things I love about Amy is that she cares passionately about all of the students who do this activity, not just those from Mentor.  She often asks about a specific student of mine who just placed for the first time, or who is back competing after some time off, and it isn’t because she is being “creepy-competitive”—but rather because she really wants the best for every student.  Of her many amazing qualities, this is the best.

–Jason Habig, Hathaway Brown

Continue reading Motivation for 2016-17: Reflecting on March

Seeking inspiration for 2016-17? Look back to March

Coach Stertzbach of Hoover HS (Canton), 2016 OHSSL HOF Inductee

As the 2016-17 Forensics season draws ever closer, the tasks of recruiting, auditioning, organizing, coaching, and hosting (among others) can seem daunting.

OHIOspeaks reminds coaches to be positive and to look back at States 2016 in Princeton for inspiration.  Remember, you can find videos of both the opening- and closing ceremonies at the OHSSL website.

Here is a closer look at one of the HOF speeches from this past March, from Missy Stertzbach of Hoover (Canton).  May it inspire you and your fellow coaches.


March 4, 2016 – Princeton HS (GMV) – OHSSL State Finals

For most of us in this room, it’s all about the words.  After all, that’s what we do.  We talk.

So, of course, I decided to start out by breaking it down by the numbers.

My speech-and-debate ride began 31 years ago: four as a student; two as a judge; and 24 as a coach.  I’ve coached over 500 students, with this many qualifiers and that many champions.  By the numbers, that about sums up my speech-and-debate career.  So, I guess I’m done here.  Thank you very much!

Okay, so about half of you were thinking, “Yes! She’s done!”  But those who know me well know that there is no way I am going to pass up the opportunity to force this many people to listen to me.

So—what do those numbers really mean?  For me, speech and debate has been so much more than those numbers.  It has made me who I am.  The lessons I have learned have, indeed, been life-changing.  Truthfully, it’s been some kind of ride and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Lesson #1: Never let a bump in the road derail you from your ride.

My first coach, David (we’ll stick with just a first name here to protect the not-so-innocent), retired at the end of my freshman year, and when I think back, I can’t actually remember ever practicing with him—not once.  I realized, even then, that I wasn’t a priority; he didn’t think I had a future in speech and debate.  The fact is, that could have been the end of this entire journey.  Except up ahead on the road were Barbara Barthel (you’ve met her) and Angela Smith, who believed in me and showed me how great speech could be.  And…the rest is history.

So, David, look where my ride has taken me.

Missy has been a huge reason why the Tusky Valley team has been so successful as a “four-year team.”  Her support and knowledge as a mentor has given us the tools we need to grow.

— Carrie Spina and Cierra Spina, Tusky Valley

Continue reading Seeking inspiration for 2016-17? Look back to March