The 12 Things of Speech & Debate: A Carol for Any Season

by Penny Harris, Canton Central Catholic HS (CAN)

Because we all need a little humor at this point in the season, here is a parody of Bob Rivers’s “12 Pains of Christmas” lyrics.

The first thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me
Is finding a way to pay fees.
The second thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Reading all these cases
And finding a way to pay fees.
The third thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Reading all these cases;
And finding a way to pay fees.
The fourth thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Sending bus-requests;
Reading all these cases;
And finding a way to pay fees.
The fifth thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Finding good judges!
Sending bus-requests;
Reading all these cases;
And finding a way to pay fees.
The sixth thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Kids changing cuttings;
Finding good Judges!
I hate filling out bus-requests!
Reading all these cases!
And finding a way to pay fees.
The seventh thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Kids changing cuttings;
Finding good Judges!
Sending bus-requests;
Oh, geez, fundraising!
I’m tryin’ to read all these cases!
And finding a way to pay fees.
The eighth thing of Speech and Debate that such a pain to me:
Ballots disappearing!
And what’cha mean “it’s a bad cutting”?
Finding good judges!
Oh, sending these bus-requests…
Fundraising, huh?
What, we have no evidence?!
And finding a way to pay fees.
The ninth thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
School Internet-Security;
“Coach, where is my ballot?!”
Kids changing cuttings;
Finding good judges;
Writing out those bus-requests;
Now, why the heck are there no blocks?!
And finding a way to pay fees.
The tenth thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Kids aimlessly wandering;
Kicked off the internet;
Ballots disappearing!
Kids changing cuttings;
Finding good judges;
Yo-Ho, sending bus-requests!
One contention goes out, they all go out!
And finding a way to pay fees.
The eleventh thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
Overnight trips;
Are they in the bathroom?
Did they really block SpeechWire(TM)?
Fine, cut something yourself, for once!
Finding good judges;
Oh, I don’t even know if we HAVE buses….
I’ll just donate the money myself!
Get on the computer—new evidence just rolled in!
And finding a way to pay fees.
The twelfth thing of Speech and Debate that’s such a pain to me:
New rules from OSDA;
I’m never staying at this hotel again!
Were they actually ON the bus this morning?
“No internet access?!! Somebody call Ben!”
“Where are my BALLOTS?!?”
Gotta make ’em a new cutting;
Finding good judges;
Look, we’ll just have to carpool! Yes, we’re still going!
Not… another… bake sale….
Fine! You’re so smart, you fix your own case!
And finding a way to pay fees.

[Editor’s Note: We hope you’ve had a happy holiday season, and may 2019 bring you great success and joy (and not too much pain!).]

It’s time to represent.

Rep Your Event 2019 is here.

Contest Rules & Guidelines:

  • Create a 1-minute video encapsulating what makes your OSDA 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 OSDA at

Deadline for Entries:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Winning Entries:

  • Finalist videos will be voted on via online voting before (and their submitters/producers will be recognized at) the State Tournament Awards Assembly in Canton in March 2019.
  • Finalist entries will be determined by the OSDA Board of Directors.
  • The Grand Prize Winner, who will be determined at the State Tournament in March, will win a $100 scholarship (and be forever recognized as the winning video producer for that year).
  • The OSDA 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 OSDA retains the right to use any submitted video, or portions (including still images) thereof, for promotional purposes.

2016 Winning Video: Melissa Liang (Sylvania Southview, TOL)

2017 Winning Video: Amelia Mainzer (Highland, AKR)

2018 Winning Video: Grace Cousens (Laurel School, CLE)

2019 Winning Video: Yours?

Question Mark

Lights! Camera! Action! We look forward to seeing you represent.

Peer-Coaching: A Wise Investment

by Missy Stertzbach, Head Coach, North Canton Hoover HS (Canton)

“Just like that, my peer-coaching system started to take shape, and I have never looked back.”

Not long ago, I sat in an overcrowded high school auditorium as the novice members of my team received awards.  From behind me I heard another longtime coach say, “Wow, congratulations on having such a great crop of novices.”

I turned my head and whispered, “Thanks.”  Then I turned toward the front again while I experienced waves of both pride and guilt.  The source of the pride was obvious—our novices had done a great job.  But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I had just taken credit for something to which I had not contributed.

After all, I had not coached a single one of those novices.  Instead they had each been coached by a varsity member of our team.

I began using peer-coaches about seven years ago.  My team had grown rapidly and I suddenly found myself overwhelmed.  Out of necessity, I started randomly asking my varsity kids to “watch her,” or “teach him to pop,” or “show him how to hold the binder.”  Thanks to our varsity kids jumping in and helping with our newbies, we were ready to compete at the first novice tournament.

Just like that, my peer-coaching system started to take shape, and I have never looked back.  Over the course of the first two or three years, I tweaked the system until I finally arrived at the one I currently use.

The following guidelines are what I have in place that work for me and my team.  As a fellow coach, please feel free to use them in their entirety, or as a starting point to build your own guidelines.

  1. Varsity (peer-) coaches are juniors or seniors and are handpicked to be varsity coaches based on their skill, experience, and personality.
  1. Varsity coaches are invited to coach, but they may refuse based on their own personal responsibilities and time factors.
  1. Varsity coaches are matched with a novice student who competes in their same event, or in a similar event.
  1. Varsity coaches are required to practice with their novice at least once per week.
  1. Adult coaches always have the final say regarding coaching decisions.
  1. As the season progresses, adult coaches will become more involved with the coaching of novices.

I can honestly say that using my varsity kids as coaches to the novices (or “babies,” as we call them) has allowed my team and my students to thrive.  We have found that the benefits are far-reaching for all of us.

Obviously, the benefits for me as a coach are great.  Instead of spending hours teaching the babies the basics, I am free to focus on recruiting and organizing the team, selecting and arranging cuttings, preparing and blocking the varsity competitors.

But beyond this, there are significant advantages for the novices, as well.  They bond more quickly with their varsity (peer-) coaches than they would with me.  (I have been told that I can be an acquired taste….)

“Instead of spending hours teaching…the basics, I am free to focus on recruiting and organizing the team, selecting and arranging cuttings, preparing and blocking the varsity competitors.”

Also, I find that novices tend to learn “the basics” better from someone who is closer (in time) to having learned those same basics for themselves.  My varsity competitors remember how hard it was to learn to plant their feet, to slow down, and to speak up—so they tend to be extra patient with the novices who struggle with these initially.

In more recent years, I’ve realized that even the varsity coaches learn and grow from the coaching experience.  They gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be “coachable,” and as a result, they usually become more coachable themselves.

But the greatest benefit of being a varsity peer-coach does not apply to speech and debate competition.  From my experience, I’ve witnessed how they become better people for the experience.  They learn to be more patient, to work with all types of people, to manage their time, and to care about the success of others in a meaningful way.

The pride that my varsity coaches express when their novices are successful is one of the greatest benefits I witness as a head coach.  When that happens, I know that they have truly become coaches themselves.

“From my experience, I’ve witnessed how [varsity peer-coaches] become better people for the experience.”

Let me be clear: on that recent (aforementioned) Saturday afternoon, I felt somewhat guilty—but not because I didn’t coach my novice students at all.  My guilt stemmed from the fact that I had not given enough credit to those who had coached them the most: my students who had become peer-coaches.

In this way, peer-coaching is one of the best investments in my team’s future.  #

Thoughts on Middle-School Forensics

by Bill Prater, Coach, Findlay & Whitmer High Schools (Toledo)

You may say I’m a dreamer,

But I’m not the only one;

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one.

It’s hard to believe that John Lennon’s iconic song “Imagine” was released to the world 47 years ago.  However, even as we look back almost a half-century later, his words ring just as true now as they did then.

For me, that world is Speech and Debate.

Over my 19 years of coaching, one constant has never wavered: we are a group of individuals doing everything we can to improve the lives of the high school students of this state.

Every year OSDA alumni come back and regale us with the stories about how they continue to use skills they learned from forensics as they move through their adult lives.  Being the dreamer that I am, the prospect of expanding what we do to the middle school students in the state of Ohio means that more students will be exposed to the life lessons and enjoyable experiences that Speech and Debate bring.

And—like John Lennon—I’m not the only one.  The passion that is now being displayed by the students, coaches, parents, and administrators at the middle-school level has grown exponentially in just a short amount of time.

However, as with any new endeavor, there are going to be bumps in the road.

The Middle School Committee knew this would be the case when we were formed just over a year ago.  As chair of the Middle School Committee (as we enter year two), I would like to explain to you the vision that we see for middle-school forensics as it continues to grow in the state of Ohio.

Middle-school speech and debate are a living, breathing organism—thus, changes will continue to be made on the fly.  But I hope that if we give all of you a better understanding of what it is we see for middle school competition in Ohio, maybe someday you will join us.


“The passion that is now being displayed by the students, coaches, parents, and administrators at the middle-school level has grown exponentially in just a short amount of time.”


First and foremost, let me say that we on the Middle School Committee know that different coaches and programs have different end-goals when it comes to what they want to achieve from middle-school speech and debate.  We do not wish to intervene with any of that. Our goal was, and continues to be, to do the best we can to create an educational and enjoyable competitive experience for our middle-school forensicators.

Therefore, we have looked at the setup of several different states and how they run their middle-school programs.  We have looked at how best to incorporate what we already do with high school to best fit our middle-school students.  This involves everything from choosing the competitive categories to the manuals that govern competition.

Of course, there may be disagreement in what is offered, which would be similar to disagreement at the high-school level.  We all have categories we would like to see added.

Nevertheless, our vision is more about skills than categories.

What skills do middle-school students need, and what skills will help them as they move on to compete in high school?  That is the goal within athletics, as it is in the classroom.  By operating within a system that is skills-based instead of category-based, students can learn the big picture of debate, interpretation, public address, and limited prep—instead of merely learning a category.

I am fortunate to be entering my 5th year of coaching middle-school students.  These students are doing remarkable things, and it is our job—our duty—to do everything we can to teach them, and to allow them to learn and grow.

The exponential rate at which middle-school programs are growing across the state is exciting, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that this continues.  You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I see a time when we have separate middle-school tournaments.

At the National Tournament, the National Speech and Debate Association always has the middle-school National Champions come on stage during the high school ceremony to showcase what NSDA deems the “future of speech and debate.”  (This year, they even had elementary-school students.)

It was fun to see.  But it made me think.

Middle school isn’t the future; it’s the present.  When (not if) we teach our middle-school students to speak, write, research better than they did the day before—we only make the world a better place.


“[O]ur vision is more about skills than categories.”


As I said before, forensics is a living organism.  As we enter the “terrible twos” of our Middle-School Committee, we know there will be growing pains.  We will all continue to have different goals and expectations, and that’s fantastic.

But we must have the same vision.

We’re making conscious decisions to best instill the skills that will benefit students not only as they enter high school, but eventually as they enter adulthood.

So I hope that today (not someday) you will join us, and we can speak and debate as one.


Fundraising Essentials for Your Program

by Jodi West, Head Coach, Poland Seminary High School (Youngstown)

Funding is always in the back of every head coach’s mind when it comes to speech and debate.  As more districts continue to lose district funding sources, fundraising for your team will be more important than ever.  In this day and age, there are many different types of fundraisers out there for your team to utilize.

Do Your Due Diligence / Plan Ahead

Before you complete too much planning, especially if you’re part of a new program, first check with your school/district administrators (early) to understand their fundraising regulations and restrictions.  Some districts only allow a certain number of fundraisers based on the size of the activity/group, while others may need pre-approval from the district treasurer; also, many districts need to inform their administrators/school board of what they plan to do just to get it onto an official school calendar.

Keep in mind, the Ohio State Auditor has been advocating for school district policies regarding crowdfunding sources like Donors Choose, Go Fund Me, EDCO, Crowdrise, etc.  These policies would include any crowdfunding that would be used to “help enhance classrooms and enrich the education of their students.”

The state auditor released a special report in July (2018) citing concerns about student privacy, financial controls and accounting, and reputational risks.  As such, the auditor is advocating for school districts to have official policies in place regarding these types of funding sources.  The following segment (below) is straight from the Ohio State Auditor’s Office regarding the policies it would like to see implemented in school districts.

The Auditor of State’s Office recommends that districts consider designing a policy that incorporates the following guidelines and best practices:

  • Requiring that all crowdfunding campaigns be reviewed and approved by a designated school administrator;
  • Directing the designated administrator to ensure that the proposed crowdfunding campaign does not violate any federal or state law, including those governing the confidentiality of student information, and that the campaign seeks donations that comport with the district’s education philosophy, needs, and technical infrastructure;
  • Designating which crowdfunding services can be used by teachers. These should be services that send donations directly to the school, not to the teacher, to ensure that donations are not diverted or misused. The district also should determine if participation with a given crowdfunding site obligates the school district to assume any responsibility to file government-required reports of charitable activities;
  • Requiring that donations only be used for the stated purpose;
  • Mandating that no donations will be accepted without school board approval;
  • Establishing that all crowdfunding donations are the property of the school district, to be entered promptly into the district property inventory or deposited in district bank accounts so that they are subject to normal financial oversight and auditing.

To see the whole report, just click on this link.

“Before you complete too much planning, especially if you’re part of a new program, first check with your school/district administrators (early) to understand their fundraising regulations and restrictions.”

Choosing the Best Fundraisers for Your Team

So how can you make it rain money for your program?  The answer is simple: Know your customer base; motivate your team to sell; and maintain fundraisers with healthy profit margins.

Fundraising can be the bane of every team’s existence; however, there are ways to make it fun for your team at the same time.  Let’s face it, the way to get the most out of any fundraiser is to get everyone on board—from team members to parents and coaches.

Try activities that put the “fun” in fundraising.

Activities that promote team-bonding have always been successful for my program.  From “Flamingo Flocking,” Bowl-A-Thons, and Car Washes—any event where the students can have fun participating and promoting will motivate them to get out there and sell.

Don’t make it a chore to participate.

Remember, these people are giving up their free time to help.  Make it worth their while.

Show appreciation for the help you receive.

Even if a fundraiser is mandatory on your team, “thank-you” gestures go a long way.

Come up with an incentive for the person who sells the most or brings in the most profit.

This could be reduced/no fees for an overnight trip, first choice of roommates for an overnight trip, or even a simple $15 gift card.

Use fun incentives to promote participation.

Offer things like a whipped-cream pie-attack to the coach of their choice for top sellers reaching certain goals.  Extreme examples of incentives could be shaving your head or beard, dying your hair your team’s school colors, and more.  Other options include wearing a funny wig to school all day, dressing like a clown for the day while teaching, or even (Dare I say it?) a dunk tank.

“Basically, don’t be afraid to try something new.”

Make sure you pick fundraisers that you know will be successful in your local area.

This is a little harder for a new program; however, after a while it becomes easier.   If your school is located in an area with a well-known chocolatier, this is a good place to start.

Though many districts have policies about selling candy during school hours, do not feel thwarted.  Ask every team member and coach to sell two boxes of candy bars/each, or even $100 worth of Easter candy/each—if that is an option with your local chocolatier (etc.).  Most of these types of fundraisers run at a 40-50 percent profit margin.  (I cannot tell you how fast my own team goes through candy bars!)

Also, make sure you are selling a quality product.

No one wants to buy a rock-hard candy bar, for example.  But a nice, creamy, milk-chocolate bar will fly out of your team’s hands with the money going quickly into your team’s spending account.  (Keep allergies in mind, as well.)

Also keep in mind the price of the products you’ll be selling.

If you are in a lower-income area, find items you can easily sell for $1/each.  Most candy bars from local chocolatiers are within that approximate range.  The fundraising packs you find at Sam’s Club and/or Costco encourage selling at $2/each.  If you go that route, you may be pricing yourself out of a successful fundraiser based on your area.

In my fundraising guide (on the OSDA website), I offer a few different fundraisers that have all been successful for my team.  I do encourage you to check them out as they all yield moderate-to-high profit margins—and with little-to-no upfront cost.

Click here for a link to the guide, for you to read at your leisure.

Basically, don’t be afraid to try something new.  Remember that the best fundraisers are something different that no other group (so far as you know) is currently doing.

With that, good luck raising money this year for your team/s.


In the Name of Optimal Speech Judging

by Chris Jennings, Assistant Coach, Canfield High School (Youngstown)

Fellow coaches, what is the thing that frustrates us most?  What frustrates our students most?

The subjectivity of speech judging, of course!

Subjectivity is inherent in judging.  There is no way to eliminate it, and we shouldn’t want to do that.  But we should absolutely do everything possible to ensure that the judges in the room are the most knowledgeable, capable ones available.

The following are things we can do to improve the quality of judges in the state of Ohio: Continue reading In the Name of Optimal Speech Judging

The Road to States: Another Look Back

Updated-headshotBW.pdfThis weekend’s Opening Ceremony will feature speeches from three new OSDA Coaches’ Hall of Fame inductees (Dolores Muller, Alan Bates, and Jason Habig).  In preparation for these upcoming speeches, here is a look back at one of last year’s inductees, Holly Custer of Wooster High School.

Can you remember a time when your life changed?

Maybe it was a big life event—like a wedding, a birth, or a death.  Or maybe it was a smaller change, like starting a new job or making a new friend.  We all have moments in our lives that help shape and define who we are and whom we will become.  For me, one of the most definitive moments of change happened in the spring of my eighth-grade year.  That spring, I said “yes” to speech and debate, and that decision completely altered the trajectory of my life. Continue reading The Road to States: Another Look Back

The Road to States: A Look Back

Penny HarrisThis weekend’s Opening Ceremony will feature speeches from three new OSDA Coaches’ Hall of Fame inductees (Dolores Muller, Alan Bates, and Jason Habig).  In preparation for these upcoming speeches, here is a look back at one of last year’s inductees, Penny Harris of Canton Central Catholic.

According to one famous comedian, “Life isn’t something you possess.  It’s something you take part in, and you witness.”  Thank you, Cleveland, for welcoming us to “The LAND.” The Land where we are all witnesses. Where Lebron James proved that a dream fueled by dedication, drive, and vision can be achieved.  How appropriate that The Land is hosting the OHSSL State Championship.

We may flex different muscles in speech and debate, but we share a few common denominators: similarities such as passion, competitiveness, and heart.  We are all witnesses to the power and effectiveness of speech and debate.  I am so honored to be standing here to join this group of individuals for whom I have the utmost respect, but no one stands alone in The Land.  Many people stand with me—including all of you.

We are all witnesses.  What I want to share with you now is my witness: how I got here; what I’ve witnessed; and why I love The Land.

I’m just a girl from Canton. Continue reading The Road to States: A Look Back

Rep Your Event 2018 Finalist voting is LIVE!

The Finalists have been selected and it’s time to vote for the winner.

Each competitor was tasked with doing his or her best to encapsulate, within a 1-minute video (perhaps with a slight grace period), what makes a particular competitive OSDA event great.  This year’s Finalists represent the events of International Extemporaneous Speaking, Public Forum Debate, and Original Oratory.

International Extemporaneous Speaking

submitted by Aditi Rajgopal, Mason High School (GMV)


Public Forum Debate

submitted by Grace Cousens, Laurel School (CLE)


Original Oratory

submitted by Natalie Zachariah, Olentangy Liberty High School (COL)


Now YOU get to decide who wins the $100 scholarship from the OSDA, and which event is best represented for the year.

Head to or click this link to vote.

One of these three finalists will be announced the RYE Winner at the State Finals Awards Ceremony in Sylvania.  Votes are limited to one per person/account, so get out the vote!

Voting will be open until sometime shortly before the Awards Ceremony at State Finals on Saturday, March 3, 2018.

Best of luck to you all!

Coaches’ Conversation


Hello and Happy New Year!

Last month NSDA held its first Twitter Chat that focused on strategies for hosting tournaments.  We stayed on that topic with two OSDA coaches who host large tournaments annually.



Coaches’ Conversation

featuring Dolores Muller (Wauseon, TOL) and Jessica Jones (Olmsted Falls, CLE)

How long have you been coaching?


20 years as a head coach; two years as an assistant


This is my fifth year coaching, all as head coach.

What are 2-3 of the most challenging aspects with hosting a tournament?

Continue reading Coaches’ Conversation