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

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

Coaches’ Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Coaches’ Conversation

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.

Continue reading The Feminist Kritik (Part 2)

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

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…