Hall of Fame
About the Hall of Fame
I. Mr. Bruno Jacob, Secretary-Emeritus, shall name the first ten members of the Hall.
A. The initial ten inductees shall be, in the opinion of Mr. Jacob, the all-time greatest NFL coaches (currently coaching or retired, living or deceased) based upon:
1. Service to the NFL 2. Chapter awards (largest chapter, leading chapter) 3. Record at the National Tournament 4. Record at district and State tournaments
II. Additional coaches may be elected by:
A. An “old timers” committee composed of Mr. Jacob, Mr. Odom, and Mr. Winfield may recommend retired or deceased coaches to the members of the Hall. A 2/3 vote of the living members is required to elect these members.
B. District Chairmen or members of the District Committee may suggest retired or inactive coaches they consider worthy of election to the Hall. These names shall be submitted to all coaches holding three diamonds or more. The two nominees each year receiving the greatest number of votes by preferential ballot shall be inducted.
III. Additional persons, not coaches, may be elected by:
A. A unanimous vote of the Executive Council (these persons shall have rendered great, unstinting and continuous service to NFL).
Mr. Jacob wrote the reasons for his founding member selections in the September 1978 issue of Rostrum: “In selecting the coaches to be nominated to the Hall of Fame, I set up two criteria:
First, that coach shall have demonstrated over a number of years a consistent ability as a superior speech teacher and speech coach as demonstrated by several tangible achievements: the number of students qualified to reach the finals in the national speech tournament; the winning of championships in that tournament; the winning of the Tau Kappa Alpha [now Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob] Trophy (or the tournament sweepstakes [now the School of Excellence] award); attainment by the coach of the NFL Diamond Key Award.
Second, devotion to the NFL [now the NSDA] as indicated by service as District Chairman, National Director, National Officer, or as host to the National Speech Tournament.”
Mr. Jacob then named ten founding members to the new Hall of Fame. By unanimous vote, the Executive Council had earlier named Mr. Jacob to the Hall of Fame. Rostrum editor Albert Odom, himself later elected to the Hall, wrote in the September 1978 Rostrum: “Bruno E. Jacob was presented the NFL Hall of Fame membership number one. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone except Mr. Jacob that he would be the number one selection.” The award was presented on behalf of the 450,000 members of the NFL. Karl E. Mundt, Former United States Senator and longtime National Forensic League President, was posthumously awarded membership number two. The 12 initial members were officially inducted at the National Tournament banquet held during the 1978 National Tournament hosted by Northwestern University. An elegant ceremony was performed at McCormick Place, the Chicago convention hall on the Lake Michigan shore. Each living member spoke, but the premiere speech was delivered by Mr. Jacob. Frail and ill, Mr. Jacob poured out his heart about the meaning of the National Forensic League and the wonderful people who rendered great service to the organization and to the youth involved in speech activities. Unfortunately, no audio or video copy of that speech can be found, but perhaps Mr. Jacob’s retirement speech, delivered at the 1969 Washington, D.C., National Tournament banquet, can provide a glimpse of Mr. Jacob’s emotions and the power of his oratorical skills. “…What can a man say at a moment like this. There are moments in life when a heart is so full of emotion… The book of my life is nearly finished. We are writing the pages of the last chapter now. I am haunted by the words of the dying Cecil Rhodes…, ‘So much to do, so little done.’ As I look back I am distressed by the opportunities neglected, the blank pages in my book. But the moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on. Nor all my piety or wit will lure it back to change half a line, nor all my tears wash out one word of it.” The Hall was expanded at the Spring 1987 Executive Council meeting: “Moved by Mitchell, seconded by Fernandes, that this year the Hall of Fame admit three retired and three active coaches. Passed. Unanimous.” At the Fall 1987 Council meeting, a special committee was established to discuss Hall of Fame membership qualifications. The committee was comprised of Jean Boles, Charline Burton, Ralph Carey, Carmendale Fernandes, Richard Sodikow, L. D. Naegelin, H. B. Mitchell, and James Copeland, acting NFL Secretary. That committee recommended that four nominees should be elected each year: two by the three-diamond or higher coaches, and two by the living Hall members. Twenty-five years of service or retirement was required for nomination. An “old timer’s” committee and Honorary nominees could also be elected. Originally, the names of nominees elected were kept secret, like the Motion Picture Oscars, and announced at the national banquet. After a few newly elected members failed to attend the banquet or failed to qualify students to the National Tournament and did not attend, it was decided that, like the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the new inductees would be announced in advance. In 1987, a separate Hall of Fame banquet was established, hosted by Billy Tate, to induct the new honorees prior to their public presentation at the Donus D. Roberts Diamond Assembly. Two Hall of Fame members, Jean Boles and Ruby Krider, deserve special commendation. Jean Boles served as Hall of Fame secretary from her induction in 1983 until her death. Ms. Boles, a former student of the legendary debate coach H. B. Mitchell and later an outstanding Texas coach herself, corresponded with Hall members, spearheaded the establishment of Hall of Fame scholarships for the winners of the National Tournament supplemental events, and was instrumental in obtaining a federal not-for-profit designation for the Hall of Fame. Mrs. Krider, inducted in 1979 and one of the finest teachers of oral interpretation in the NFL, originated the idea for a Hall of Fame pin. She and her husband Clem designed an octagonal, gold pin with the NFL key as the escutcheon, bearing the image of the eye which sees all sides of a topic, the lamp of knowledge, and the initials NFL diagonal across the key. The words “Hall of Fame” border the edges of the pin, which is still in use and highly treasured to this day. It took more than 50 years for the National Forensic League (now the National Speech & Debate Association) to establish a Hall of Fame. After almost four decades, what is the state of this elite, yet important, organization now? Some Halls of Fame are so large that the honor seems meaningless. Once during a performance of the Grand Ole Opry, the aging Roy Acuff, once the Opry’s greatest star, and an early member of the Country Music Hall of Fame introduced a singer by saying, “Please welcome a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame… I think he is a member… They’re gettin’ so many in there it’s hard to keep track…” Bruno Jacob’s decision to limit Hall induction to only those coaches who have achieved consistent superiority in teaching and coaching and have performed exemplary service to the organization is a standard which has stood the test of time. Although one may argue that deserving coaches not yet tapped deserve election, no one can persuasively argue that any previous inductee did not earn that special honor. Only one individual elected to the NFL Hall of Fame refused induction! The great Minnesota teacher R. J. Happe coached many champion debate teams and two future Minnesota governors. Happe was also the first four-diamond coach in NFL history! Yet he refused induction because he was angry that Mr. Jacob did not choose him as one of the original members. Some Halls of Fame are governed by politics: membership is determined by friendships and marred by campaigning. The famous Oklahoma coach Charline Burton insisted during a 1987 meeting of the Special Hall of Fame committee that Hall recognition “not be political!” Her words were true then and true now. Voting to enshrine a coach should never be based upon friendship, never be decided upon state or regional pride, and certainly never be influenced by competitive animosity. Campaigning by a coach or their supporters is out of character. This ultimate honor should seek the person! So how stands our Hall? Strong and vibrant! Ninety-two years after the founding of the NFL, the careers of more than 200 members in the National Speech & Debate Association Hall of Fame will continue to serve as a beacon to those who spend their careers “Training Youth for Leadership.” John West, an honorary NFL member and great supporter, knew of an Association of Halls of Fame. Members include Halls with huge museum displays and auditoriums, which are visited by millions of people yearly, as well as smaller Halls, only marked by a small plaque or a book of names. But all of these Halls have one thing in common: members who have achieved uncommon and sustained excellence. The National Speech & Debate Association Hall of Fame is neither the grandest nor the smallest Hall, but it is one of the strongest and most elite: honoring almost a century of fine teaching and coaching of speech activities for almost four decades. Its members invite you to achieve membership: Bruno Jacob and more than 200 honorees have marked your path.
Hall of Fame Selection Process
Annually, the current living Hall of Fame members and NSDA coaches with three or more Diamond Awards will select four inductees annually.
All living Hall of Fame members shall be allowed to cast a vote for up to four individuals for induction into that year’s NSDA Hall of Fame. All living three-diamond coaches, including qualified Hall of Fame members, will also be allowed to cast a vote for up to four individuals for induction into that year’s NSDA Hall of Fame. The first two inductees shall be the two individuals receiving the most total votes from the Hall of Fame member vote only. The third and fourth inductees shall be the two individuals receiving the most total votes from the combined votes of Hall of Fame members and three-diamond coaches. The vote of Hall of Fame members with three or more diamonds is double in weight. If either of the top two vote getters are the first or second choice of the Hall of Fame only vote, the induction goes to the next place winner(s) of the combined vote. If there is a tie for the fourth inductee using the combined vote, the preference of the Hall of Fame only vote will break it.
A fifth inductee is chosen annually to the Hall of Fame, called a “Legends” selection. This individual can either be an older or deceased coach or a non-coach who was worthy of consideration. The individual is not required to have ever been on a regular Hall of Fame ballot, but could have been and would still be eligible. A Legends nominee is not someone who appears on the current Hall of Fame ballot. It is recommended (but not required) that the selection committee seek out individuals who have either appeared on the ballot several times with no selection and have since fallen from annual consideration due to failed attempts at selection or who have never been considered on a ballot due to the unique situation of their relationship with the organization (longtime staff, collegiate coach, longtime supporter, etc.).
The primary standards which are to be considered are the following:
-Service to the National Speech & Debate Association
-Chapter Awards and Recognition
-Record of Student Success in NSDA Competition and State Tournaments
“Legends” Selection Process:
The selection of the Legends inductee will use the following process:
Each year, the current Board President selects a committee of current Hall Fame members who will serve on the Hall of Fame Legend Selection Committee. One of the individuals selected will be chosen as the chair and in the future will be one of two repeat members from the prior year, having served as a member of the committee. The committee will consist of both newly selected and longtime Hall of Fame members, as well as individuals who represent diversity of geography, school size, ethnicity, etc. Individuals can be selected to the committee multiple times, but not consecutively (beyond the two mentioned above) and never more than twice in a five-year period.
Prior to April 15, the committee will accept nominations from the current Hall of Fame members and the Executive Director, as well as do their own research into potential nominees as the Legends selection for that year. This research will be provided as documentation to the committee to determine the credibility of the nominees. Documentation may include NSDA district and national level competition, service, and leadership accomplishments as well as testimony of contemporaries of the time. Noteworthy awards and forensic accomplishments may be included. After year one, the current committee can also consider people that were considered by the previous committee.
In April, the Legends committee will deliberate and select one individual as that year’s Legends pick for the Hall of Fame to be announced with the other four elected inductees.
Inducted 2023 New Jersey
Jonathan is a high school English teacher and a two-diamond coach for Newark Science High School in New Jersey, who first earned his NSDA membership as a student in 1985, soon qualifying for NSDA Nationals in LD in 1988. After graduating from Yale University, Jonathan has coached eight NJ state LD champions, was the coach of the 2018 NDCA Dukes/Bailey winner, and has had debaters make it to late elimination rounds and top speaker positions at Stanford, Emory, Greenhill, Wake Forest, Harvard, the Tournament of Champions, and the NSDA Nationals, including the second speaker in LD in 2015. He has also coached two members of the USA Debate team. Jonathan has generously given of his time and talents to the speech and debate community and the NSDA. He served on the Lincoln-Douglas Wording Committee for many years. He has also served as the co-chair of Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the NSDA National Tournament for the past four years. Because of Jonathan’s commitment to leadership and service to the speech and debate communities, he was named 2014 National Debate Coach Association Educator of the Year, 2016 Glenn Pelham Award winner, and a member of the prestigious Barkley Forum Key Society.
Inducted 2023 Colorado
Martha Benham has been an integral part of the speech and debate community for more than 20 years. She has coached numerous state qualifiers, state finalists, state champions, national qualifiers, and national finalists. Although the success experienced by her students is impressive, her dedication to promoting speech and debate is even more so. For years, Martha has been instrumental in the planning and logistics of the state speech conference. Each year, she collaborates with others to teach new coaches the basics and make them feel welcome. At the national level, Martha has served on the LD Wording Committee and is the chair of her NSDA district. She has presented at the NSDA national education conference and was site host for the conference in 2017. She is constantly looking for ways to bridge local programs and local students with national resources to support their involvement in this life-changing activity. Martha’s dedication to her students as well as the state and national speech communities has resulted in her induction into the Colorado High School Activities Hall of Fame, receiving the Ralph E. Carey Award for Distinguished Career Service and other prestigious awards.
Inducted 2023 New Mexico
William Bennett’s record at the National Tournament is among the strongest in history. Bill qualified more than 40 students—nine reached the final round; five won the championship. His Lincoln-Douglas debaters closed out the final round at the 1986 Nationals—the first time in NFL/NSDA history debaters from the same school reached the final stage. He coached seven Extemp speakers to the national finals; three won the championship. What is truly amazing is that his record was accomplished in small schools, on small budgets, and with no national circuit participation. Bill coached in Wyoming, Nebraska, Illinois, and New Mexico. Bill was a staunch supporter of the NFL, supporting chapters in four different high schools. His state records include over 60 champions. He was very proud that his daughter qualified to Nationals in three different years. Her point record is still the highest total in her chapter after 17 years. Bill was an educator who shared his skills with the entire forensic community. He published quality textbooks and handbooks starting in 1973, writing with clarity about the theory and practice of contest events as well as how to coach students to excel in these events. Bill and his wife Catherine conducted speech and debate summer camps since the 1980s.
Inducted 2023 Nebraska
Matt Heimes is an exemplary teacher and four-diamond coach who has spent more than 30 years coaching forensics. Early in his career, Matt started two NSDA chapters in rural Nebraska before moving to Lincoln Southwest to open the school and start their chapter in 2002. Since then, Matt has built the program to one of the top 100 programs in the country. Competitively, Matt has qualified 365 students to Nationals and coached over 20 national finalists, including the 2022 NSDA national champion in Expository. On the state level, Matt’s teams in South Platte, Wauneta-Palisade, and Lincoln Southwest have captured district and state team championships. In addition to competitive success, Matt leads by example through service to the local, state, and national forensic community. He has served on the Nebraska Speech Communication and Theatre Association board for 25 years, advocating to update practices to reflect the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Matt was a founding member of the NIETOC and has served as its president since 2018. Perhaps his most endearing quality is his integrity. Matt coaches his students tirelessly, not only developing their communication skills but teaching them to be well-rounded, responsible citizens beyond high school.
Inducted 2023 New York
With a career spanning more than five decades, Sarah Rosenberg has helped bring the joy of public speaking and competitive acting into the lives of thousands of students across the country. From her humble beginnings as an English and Speech/Drama teacher at Maclay Junior High School in the San Fernando Valley, to producing critically acclaimed off-Broadway re-imaginings of Shakespearean classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, her career has transcended the mere ordinary. From coaching state and national champions, to countless finalists at the state and national levels, to her most recent recognition by the NIETOC with the Josephine Dukes Award in recognition of her contributions to teaching and the fine arts, her passion for helping youth discover their voices is unparalleled. She is willing to work with every student, no matter the challenge, to help them to discover their own talent. Her example has motivated many of her students to go on to become actors, teachers, and playwrights themselves. Her commitment to bringing out all of the finest attributes of America’s youth— leadership, equity, integrity, humility, and a dedication to service above self—is exactly how she has thrived for so long and still serves as an exemplar for us all.
Raphael Scott Waldrop
Inducted 2023 Mississippi
Raphael Scott Waldrop is the head coach of Mississippi’s Hattiesburg High School nationally recognized speech and debate team. A former high school and collegiate debate champion, Scott is a four-diamond coach, twice named the Mississippi Forensic League Coach of the Year. He has coached dozens of MHSAA state champions in speech and debate. His program received the 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016 NSDA School of Excellence Award for Speech. He has coached two NSDA Students of the Year—Cory Williams in 2010 and Jarrius Adams in 2015—and had a third finalist for the award in 2017, Derek Collins. A 2018 recipient of the NSDA Frank Sferra Director’s Commendation, he has been awarded the Gold Key Service award. Inducted as a Key Coach at the Barkley Forum for High Schools at Emory University, his students have received the Melissa Maxi Wade Social Justice Award and multiple silver keys. He is the coach of the 2018 NSDA champions in Duo Interpretation and the 2022 NSDA champion in Dramatic Interpretation, and he has coached numerous NSDA finalists. Scott and his wife, Chan, are members of the NSDA 1925 Society. A Silver Life member of the NAACP, Waldrop has been recognized by the national organization for closing the achievement gap in Mississippi through speech and debate activities.
**Steven Schappaugh of Iowa was also elected but is deferring official induction to 2024 due to an unavoidable conflict.
Inducted 2022 Nebraska
A coach for 33 years, Jennifer has emerged not only as an advocate for speech education but as an advocate for all children being in safe learning environments both mentally and physically. She has served on the Nebraska District Committee since 2004, with six years as district chair. Always doing her best to provide opportunities for her students, Jennifer is deeply involved with the NSDA and NCFL. As a four-diamond coach, she has served in the tab room for the NSDA Middle School Nationals from 2012 to 2014 and as a bud from 2015 to present. She has received a plethora of coaching awards including the Nebraska District Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2018, the NSDA Nebraska Educator of the Year in 2018, as well as multiple Don Crabtree Distinguished Service Awards. In her role on the NSDA Board of Directors, Jennifer always strives to make decisions based on how a rule, a policy, or a standard will positively or negatively impact students. Her proudest moment as a coach occurred in 2019 when one of her students was named NSDA National Student of the Year.
Inducted 2022 Massachusetts
Anyone who knows Sheryl knows of her dedication to service to her students as well as to the community. Nearly every weekend of the competitive season, Sheryl volunteers her time working in tab rooms with the goal of maximizing competitive equity and ensuring fairness for students. Sheryl has served on multiple boards of local leagues in Massachusetts in her home at Lexington High School. Sheryl has also served as a member of the NSDA LD Wording Committee and in the Nationals tab room. She is a long standing member of the TOC Policy Advisory Committee and has served on the NDCA board. The number of state and national champions she has coached is numerous, but competitive success was never as important to her as empowering her students to be the best versions of themselves as possible. She unlocks the potential in young people to be forceful and passionate advocates for what is important and what is right—skills that persist long past their time as her students. Sheryl’s work with students fundamentally changes their lives for the better.
Inducted 2022 Oklahoma
In his 42 years at Guymon High School in Oklahoma, Michael has won numerous accolades and sent hundreds of students to Nationals—many into deep out rounds. However, his service to the speech and debate community is the reason he embodies all the characteristics of one who belongs in the NSDA Hall of Fame. Guymon is rural and only graduates about 100 students per year. However, during his career, Michael has grown his program larger than football or band. As a six-diamond coach with five service plaques, Michael’s coaching successes are tremendous. He has won 15 Oklahoma team championships and coached more than 100 individual event state champions. He has been named West Oklahoma District Coach of the Year, Oklahoma Speech and Debate Coach of the Year by the NFHS, H. B. Mitchell Speech and Debate Coach of the Year by the Oklahoma Speech, Theater, and Communication Association, Guymon Public Schools’ District Teacher of the Year, and was one of four finalists for Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year in 2019. In over a decade as the West Oklahoma district chair, the district won the award for highest retention and most votes cast per capita in a committee vote. He has also served as a Nationals official for more than two decades, co-chairing Lincoln-Douglas Debate for the last three. Michael runs one of the regional tournaments in the spring, and he runs the Oklahoma state championships, all of which he does in service to the community he loves.
Inducted 2022 Louisiana
Josette has spent 45 years in education with more than 20 of those years as an active coach. For years, her squads at St. Thomas More and Teurlings Catholic dominated the competition in Louisiana. She coached state champions in Policy, LincolnDouglas, Congress, Extemp, Oratory, Declamation, Oral Interp, Humorous Interp, Duo, and Duet Acting during her time as an active coach. Her teams won 14 state championship sweepstakes awards. She coached first place winners at the Harvard Invitational in Duo and Dramatic Interp and finalists in Oratory. She had first place winners at the Glenbrook South Invitational in Oral Interp and finalists in Oratory. Her success at NCFL Nationals was also significant having coached numerous finalists in Duo Reading, Oral Interp, Declamation, Lincoln-Douglas, and Policy. Her students were NCFL Duo Reading Champions in 2013. Her squad won the NCFL Debate Sweepstakes in 1993. Josette is also a triple diamond coach who served on the Louisiana NSDA District Committee. To her credit, Josette coached numerous NSDA qualifiers in United States Extemp, International Extemp, Original Oratory, Duo Interp, and Dramatic Interp that resulted in a number of semifinalists and quarterfinalists. Her students were no strangers to the stage as she has the distinction of having coached the same two students to the final round of Duo Interp for three consecutive years. In addition, she coached the NSDA champion in Commentary (2001), the second place finalist in Expository (2000), and the second place finalist in Prose (2003). Her teams won the NSDA School of Excellence Award twice in 2004 and 2007.
Inducted 2022 Texas
Karen is an unsung leader and coach. She was an educator who expected excellence from all her students; it was the same standard she held for herself. Any student who had the honor of being taught by Mrs. Wilbanks walked away with a strong sense of self, ability, and what it meant to truly “do the work.” Karen served the speech and debate community for more than 30 years, earning five diamonds as an educator/coach. She served the NSDA Lone Star District Committee as chair for two years and was on the District Committee for more than 10. She served in the Nationals tab room for many years and served on the NSDA Interpretation Committee. She assisted with four National Tournaments held in GCISD and Dallas in 2006, 2011, 2015, and 2019. She coached five national champions and had many more finalists, a number of whom have gone on to careers in film, television, theater, and several who are household names. Her programs have been named National Schools of Outstanding Distinction as well as Schools of Excellence in Speech and in Debate. Karen also served her state community with distinction. She served on the Texas Forensic Association Executive Council, including a term as president. She was named to the TFA Hall of Fame and was Secondary Speech Teacher of the Year for TSCA. The PTA recognized Karen with a Lifetime Membership for Distinguished Service. During her tenure, her school was the #1 sweepstakes school at the TFA state tournament for 10 years in a row. She epitomized excellence to all fortunate to be her students or her colleagues. Through it all, Karen demonstrated leadership, extraordinary generosity, humility, and quiet strength and grace.
“In theological language, ignorance is a curse and speech education is a blessing.”
– Brother Anthony K. Cavet
Brother Anthony K. Cavet
Merit Date: 3/4/1971
Brother Anthony K. Cavet competed at Bergen Catholic High School (NJ). He began coaching at Essex Catholic High School (NJ) in 1970, and the next year introduced speech and Congress at Brother Rice, Bloomfield Hills (MI) as additions to the debate program. In 1972, he revived a speech and debate program at Blessed Sacrament, New Rochelle, NY. From 1978-1984, 1994-1998, and 2004-2005, he was at Iona Prep in New Rochelle, NY where he added speech and Congress to the debate program, was head coach, and in later years was assistant coach to a former student. He coached a national champion in Congress and assisted in coaching an NCFL Declamation champion and the overall state championships in speech and Congress in 1998, the same year that Iona Prep was an NCFL speech co-national champion. In 1998, he became principal at Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame in Miami, FL, restoring the speech program.
From 1984-1994 and from 2005 to the present, he has been a head or assistant coach at Catholic Memorial, Boston. As head of the program, he coached a 1988 NCFL Congress winner and NFL Congress runner-up. As an assistant, he worked with NCFL Oratory and Declamation national champions and helped coach Catholic Memorial to overall state speech championships in 2017 and 2018. Catholic Memorial won the NCFL’s Paul Ward Congress trophy in 1994 and became an NCFL co-national speech championship school in 2012. Brother Cavet was inducted into the MSDL Hall of Fame in 2003.
He has been a Christian Brother for 55 years. His almost five-decade long association with the NFL/NSDA has been instrumental in shaping his academic career and personal life because the friendships he has made in this activity continue to be a support, a consolation, and a joy.
“But here’s the amazing thing about this activity, you don’t have to win the national championship or even a state championship to revolutionize your life.”
– Dr. Rich Edwards
Dr. Rich Edwards
Inducted 2021 (TX)
Dr. Rich Edwards, a professor and past forensics coach at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is an NSDA alum of Newton High School in Iowa. Dr. Edwards participated in four years of debate at the University of Iowa and earned his Ph.D. in Communication Studies in 1976. In high school circles, Dr. Edwards is most well-known for his creation of the TRPC and TRIEPC tournament tabulation software which revolutionized and modernized the facilitation of speech and debate competitions throughout the United States and internationally. In addition, Dr. Edwards has been one of the most prominent authors of publications in the field of speech, debate, and communication in the past four decades. As the author of the topic introduction issue of Forensic Quarterly since 1972 and an active member of the national Policy Debate topic wording process, Dr. Edwards has literally shaped the educational landscape of debate in and out of the classroom throughout his entire career.
As a volunteer in the high school community, Rich has devoted hundreds of thousands of hours to running and facilitating local, state, and national level tournaments. When many would believe that his role in the activity could not get any more impactful, it was Dr. Edwards who created the first comprehensive system for tabulating the National Speech & Debate Tournament. His insight and revolutionary thinking allowed for levels of efficiency and accuracy that has led to thousands of students gaining access to the event.
“Whether you are Tommie Lindsey Jr or Liz Cheney, the power of speech is necessarily tethered to the art of public service…Sure, trophies and championships are fine, but if we can teach kids to revere each other as people, I believe we will have done the world a greater good.”
– Alphonse Michael Marks
Alphonse Michael Marks
As one of the few African American speech and debate coaches in the country at that time, Michael Marks had already qualified students to the NFL tournament while directing his first program at Lumberton High School in Lumberton, Mississippi, at the age of 19. He had completed his undergraduate and Masters programs by the age of 18. The son of an educator and the first African American County Supervisor of Pike County, an accomplished pianist, he was elected the first African American Mr. University of Southern Mississippi in 1974. Michael Marks transformed the landscape of speech, debate, and theatre while he was in the classroom but advanced the cause of all educators as a member of the National Education Association Executive Committee in Washington, D.C. He lobbied the Mississippi legislature for the largest teacher pay raise in our state’s history, a 22% par raise, as President of the Mississippi Association of Educators. Under his leadership, Arts education became the focus of the Mississippi legislature and his efforts at Hattiesburg High School as Director of Forensics saw him named Disney’s America’s Educator of the Year in 1994. He has set standards in the activity for Mississippi and was instrumental in influencing the lives of many great forensic educators today.
“We’re all about the volunteers. This is an honor organization that seeks above all else to serve others.”
– Gail Nicholas
Inducted 2021 (SC)
Merit Date: 4/2/1985
As an incredible coach and excellent educator, Gail earned her NSDA membership in 1985, and in December of 2018, earned her fifth diamond award, joining her husband, Chuck, at that rare coaching level. Students from her school have qualified for 24 National Tournaments, including two NSDA national champions. She has served as district chair of South Carolina for more than 12 years, earning the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards. Gail, like many district leaders with lengthy tenures, tirelessly advocates for speech and debate, runs tournaments (including her own), and works with coaches to help build programs at the state level. At the national level, she has become a fixture in the tab room where she happily has labored for decades. Gail is a servant leader who was reflected in May of 2018 when she was honored with an Eleventh Distinguished Service Plaque. In the history of the NSDA, few individuals have more service citations than Gail Nicholas. She even served on the ad hoc committee that authored the NSDA Coaches Code of Ethics.
“There is no induction of the next class of Hall of Famers without the sweat and toil of the previous hall of famers. So with every induction, it is a renewal in the understanding that it is YOU, hall of famers, that are the true champions…”
– J. Scott Wunn
J. Scott Wunn
Inducted 2021 (IA)
Merit Date: 10/3/1996
Before successfully leading the National Speech & Debate Association for more than two decades and through some of the most challenging times the Association has ever experienced, J. Scott Wunn started his coaching career in small town Iowa with goals focused on helping students and spreading the activity of speech and debate. He developed two separate school programs, which each became the largest and most successful in the state. State and national championships followed in due course. In 2002, his student won the NSDA Humorous championship, and in 2003, his students placed third in Humorous Interpretation and second in Duo Interpretation.
Then, in 2003, Scott was selected by the Board of Directors to direct our organization, providing opportunities for students and coaches nationwide. His role changed, but his desire to expand opportunities and promote our activity remained the same. His leadership has helped meet the needs of our membership from the growth and funding of Public Forum to the creation of Informative, POI, and Big Questions. During his tenure, he has fostered recognition of our activity by moving to a more accurate brand and name and strengthened it by creating NSDE Day. Scott organized seven leadership and education conferences to encourage membership engagement and has made sure diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts have been expanded to include coaches’ caucuses, a formal equity statement, and equity officers. When faced with the pandemic, he utilized problem solving and innovation to forge a successful path forward through virtual competition.
Inducted 2020 California
Jenny Cook is a coach and mentor that has modeled how to run a program whose core values are service, integrity, leadership, respect, and equity. There are countless students, coaches, and educators who can pinpoint how Jenny has improved their lives. Jenny isn’t just a champion human. She’s a champion coach who led students to become International Extemp Champion, NFL, Lincoln-Douglas Champion, NCFL, Public Forum Champion, TOC, Extemp Champion, NCFL, Domestic Extemp Runner-Up, NFL, International Extemp Third Place, NFL, Lincoln-Douglas Third Place, NCFL, Original Oratory Sixth Place, NFL, and helped numerous others reach championship/finalist appearances at the state and national level including the 2004 National Champion of Extemporaneous Speaking, Julia Cain, in Salt Lake City.
Beyond her coaching accolades, Jenny has been a servant leader to the speech and debate community. She has been a district leader, state leader, and local leader in the NFL, NCFL, FFL, and more. She helped host NFL and NCFL Nationals, led workshops at the NSDA National Tournament, presented at the Education Conference, and answered every call she’s ever received to support speech and debate. — Compiled from nomination bio
Inducted 2020 Minnesota
Chris McDonald has been a devoted speech and debate coach since 1988. A four-diamond coach from Eagan, Chris serves the mission of the NSDA at his school, in Minnesota, and across the nation.
Chris has coached multiple state champions in multiple speech and debate events in Minnesota. He’s coached numerous students to the NSDA National Tournament in multiple events with three Policy teams finishing in the top 10, a semifinalist in Policy Debate, and three national champions in Extemporaneous Speaking. Additionally, he’s coached a student as the NCFL Grand Nationals national champion in Extemporaneous Speaking. For his excellence in coaching he has earned the Coach of the Year award in Minnesota from both the Minnesota Speech Coaches Association and the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association.
Along with over three decades of exemplary coaching and teaching, Chris has served the NSDA for more than 20 years on the Southern Minnesota board, with 12 of them as chair. Additionally, Chris has served two terms as president of the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association, one term on the MSHSL Board of Directors, as well as a term on the NSDA Board of Directors. Further, Chris has done a great deal of work for the NSDA on committees for Extemporaneous Speaking and Public Forum Debate. Because of his service, he was awarded the James Graupner Distinguished Service Award from the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association. — Compiled from nomination bio
Inducted 2020 Texas
Too long forgotten is Mollie Martin, one of the first women to break through the glass ceiling as a successful forensic coach during the NSDA’s first half-century. After coaching a Girls’ Extemporaneous Speaking national champion at Purcell High School (OK), she established the speech and debate program at Bellaire High School in Houston (TX). Her championship program would later be continued by Bill Henderson, Cecil Pickett, and David Johnson, all of whom would be later elected to the NSDA (then NFL) Hall of Fame.
Mollie Martin’s coaching record at the National Tournament (1950-1961) was truly remarkable: coach of the National Sweepstakes champions (and Coach of the Year) in 1958 and 1959; coach of the Girls’ Extemporaneous Speaking champions in 1952 and 1961; and coach of a Boys’ Extemporaneous Speaking champion in 1960.
Ms. Martin coached when entries to Nationals were scarce. Only five events were held: Debate, Boys’/Girls’ Extemporaneous Speaking, Oratory, Dramatic Interpretation, and Congress. Qualification was difficult. Only first place at the district tournament qualified, and only first place at the Texas UIL state tournament qualified. Ms. Martin coached in Oklahoma and Texas, where there were many NFL member schools and fierce competition.
Mollie’s service to our activity was admirable. She founded, and each year directed, the largest tournament in the nation: the Bellaire Forensic Tournament. It was larger than Nationals and the most prestigious high school invitational tournament. The first young woman to win the male-dominated debate division at the Bellaire tournament during Mollie Martin’s years was Elizabeth Herring, now Senator Elizabeth Warren, coached by Hall of Fame coach Charline Burton from Oklahoma!
Mollie accomplished more in a few years than most coaches accomplish in a career. Truly a pioneer, Ms. Martin was arguably one of the most successful coaches of her time!
— Compiled by David Johnson and James Copeland
Inducted 2020 Indiana
Renowned coach and legend Jim Copeland said that NFL/NSDA founder Bruno E. Jacob believed the Hall of Fame should be based on three factors: district success, state success, and National Tournament qualifying success. Jim Cavallo is a four-diamond coach who achieved all three. Jim coached both speech and debate from 1971 until he retired in 2009. He spent three of those years coaching at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Indiana. From 1997 to 2009, he was Chesterton’s Program Director. He actively coached speech events, but his focus was in Congress and, primarily, Policy Debate.
Jim had a legendary career as a teacher and was considered a steady influence with students and helped them develop leadership skills as well as political awareness and a willingness to use time and social skills to serve. Jim served on the Indiana High School League Board of Directors for 10 years, was a member of the Indiana High School Forensic League Hall of Fame, and even helped design the IHSFL State Debate Tournament format. He coached 13 Policy Debate state champions, 4 Congress state champions, 15 Congressional Debate and 34 Policy Debate national qualifiers with many of these teams and individuals advancing to outrounds and national recognition.
On a larger scale, Jim was a Chesterton High School coach of record when Chesterton won five consecutive team national championships in the late 1980s and 90s. He also was noted when Chesterton won an NFL/NSDA National School of Excellence Award—and, in 2009 Jim received the Odom Commendation when Chesterton won its third Bruno E. Jacob award.
Additionally, in the early 1970s, Jim was one of the first Policy Debate coaches to break from the “boys club” mentality and encourage, promote, and recruit young women to do Policy Debate. To Jim, every student had talent, potential, and the ability to contribute to constructive argumentation.
— Compiled from nomination bio
Inducted 2020 Texas
John F. Kennedy once said: “The time for people to embrace their passion is now.” Cheryl Potts manifests this statement to its greatest extent. Cheryl Potts is an educator who has an ethical foundation and understands the importance of communication and how to mentor other educational professionals to be their best.
“Potts” is intelligent and thorough and should be titled, “The lady who can change the world.” Cheryl’s participation in the national, state, and local speech community, committees, and other activities makes her well-rounded and begs the question, “Are there that many hours in the day?” Her competitive success as a coach has amassed numerous awards from local, state, and national levels. Cheryl is a Fourth Diamond Coach that has coached 120 NSDA national qualifiers, multiple UIL state champions, many TFA state champions, and 2 IPPF world championship teams.
Today we look for “loyal” people, and Cheryl Potts is as loyal as they come. She has a “spirit” and drive and an ability to make the impossible possible. Her work with children has left a legacy at Plano Senior High School that all speech educators can hold up as a model of achievement. She has amassed many honors and awards including, Teacher of the Year for Plano Senior HS in 2006, Mirabeau B. Lamar Award of Excellence-Grand Lodge of Texas 2003, Schwan Honors School of Excellence Awards for speech and debate in 2006 and 2007, and was a finalist for National Educator of the Year in 2017. — Compiled from nomination bio
Dr. Mike Edmonds
From a young age, Mike Edmonds has been highly involved in competitive forensics. His early experience and success led him to become a well-respected speech coach. He is frequently asked to deliver speeches for college and university convocation and commencement ceremonies around the country. Over the years, Dr. Edmonds has worked closely with numerous national speech and debate organizations and was instrumental in helping the NSDA organize its first conference focusing on issues of diversity and inclusion. To quote former Board President Billy Tate, “The NSDA has no greater friend than Mike Edmonds.”
With Dr. Edmond’s leadership, Colorado College has been a longtime sponsor of the National Speech & Debate Association, regularly hosting the Colorado Grande district tournament, the Global Debate Symposium (featuring the USA Debate team), the AFA DSR-TKA National Individual Events Tournament, the NSDA National Conference, and the African American/Black Coaches’ Caucus held at the NSDA National Tournament.
Dr. Edmonds has been the recipient of many honors and awards for his work. He received the NSDA’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. He was inducted into the Gold Key Society at Emory University, received the Delores Taylor Arthur award from the Holy Cross School in New Orleans, and accepted the Martin Luther King award from James Logan Forensics. Dr. Edmonds has also been honored with the Educator of the Year Award from the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region; the national St. George Award from the American Cancer Society; the Men of Achievement award from Delta Sigma Theta; and the Citizen of the Year Award from Omega Psi Phi. He was the recipient and awardee of the Uplift Community Foundation’s support in 2015.
Dr. Edmonds is the acting Co-President at Colorado College, where he has served for nearly 30 years. Dr. Edmonds is also an Executive in Residence in the Economics and Business Department. Dr. Edmonds holds a Bachelor of Arts, Master’s, and Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi, where he was inducted as a Hall of Fame graduate in 1984, and inducted into their School of Education Hall of Fame in 2019. He completed a post-graduate institute at Harvard University, and is a graduate of the Center for Creative Leadership.
Dr. Edmonds was a member of the North Central Institution Action Committee of the Higher Learning Commission, where he served as a peer reviewer for accreditation visits. At Colorado College, he has been recognized with the Colorado College Center for Service and Learning Award; the Victor Nelson Cisneros Diversity Award, which was presented at the 2010 Colorado College Honors Convocation; and the 2011 Gresham Riley Award, which recognizes faculty and staff of the College who have made a significant difference to the Colorado College community through outstanding service, commitment and accomplishment.
Nationally, Dr. Edmonds is a member of the Leadership Institute for outreach and public policy at the University of Mississippi, as well as a Board of Trustee member at the School of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi. Regionally, Dr. Edmonds is a past chair of the Board of Trustees for Memorial Health System, past chair of United Way for the Pikes Peak Region and past member of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Board. He is the past chair and current member of the Board of Directors of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, president-elect of the Great West American Cancer Society Board of Directors, and member of the Board of Directors for USA Ultimate. He was appointed by Governor Bill Owens to serve on the Fourth District Judicial Commission of Colorado and served as chair of the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport Commission. Dr. Edmonds holds a professional membership in Delta Sigma Rho-Tau Kappa Alpha, and is a silver lifetime member of the NAACP.
— Compiled by James Copeland and Colorado College
Dr. Paulette "Polly" Reikowski
James W. "Jay" Rye, III
Inducted 2017 New York Julie Sheinman entered the forensic world from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts after earning her MFA in Acting. In 1984, Julie “received the call” to teach. In her first year teaching, she began the speech and debate program at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School where she has been the loyal shepherd for thousands of students ever since. In addition to running the speech and debate team, Julie teaches Acting at Stuyvesant and has arranged donations of free Broadway theatre tickets for students. She has taken more than 5,000 students to Broadway, many of whom had never seen a Broadway show!
Under Julie’s 37-year guidance, Stuyvesant has had successful students in every event, including champions in Humorous Interpretation, Congressional Debate, Prose, and multiple NSDA finalists. Her consistently strong team has won dozens of awards including the Bruno E. Jacob Trophy, 10 NCFL team sweepstakes awards, 11 individual NCFL champions, over 40 state champions, and the New York State Sweepstakes Championship multiple times. Over the past few years, Stuyvesant has added Parliamentary Debate to their list of categories. They are ranked nationally.
Julie is a six-diamond coach, Key Coach of the Barkley Forum, and member of both the New York City NSDA District Committee and NYCFL Board, on which she has served for 30 years. Julie was the recipient of the first Stuyvesant High School Alumni Award in recognition of her service and commitment to Stuyvesant. In 2014, she was inducted into the NYCFL Hall of Fame. She has received multiple Outstanding Educator Awards from the University of Chicago.
Among her forensic graduates are “Billy on the Street” Eichner, actors Telly Leung and Lucy Liu, National Review editor Reihan Salam, former champion Policy debater Hannah Rosin (now with Slate and NPR) and her partner, the nemesis of high schoolers everywhere, David Coleman, president of The College Board. Several of her former team members are running speech and debate programs all over the U.S. This is a humbling testimonial to the experience these alums had while on the Stuyvesant team, and Julie sees this as a major part of her legacy to the activity.
Julie’s heartfelt mission is to offer young people opportunities to become finer people, and finer speakers and debaters. The Stuyvesant Team is diverse and inclusive. From the team’s beginning in 1984, Julie has held the position that no student will ever be denied participation because of financial limits. And no student has! Like all Directors of Forensics, she is a coach, fundraiser, travel agent, nurse, and chaperone… Through her mission, Julie has left an indelible imprint of dedication and integrity with all who have crossed her path. Of all her many students, Julie is most proud of her daughter Fannie, who was the team novice director in 2015-2016. Fannie graduated from Tufts University in 2020 and is currently in veterinary school.
Jimmy L. Smith
Jacquelyn "Jacci" Young
Eloise Weisinger Blair
Dr. Alfred "Tuna" Snider
Dr. Elizabeth Ballard
Dr. Tommie Lindsey, Jr.
Dr. Randy Patterson
Inducted 2013 Washington
Our Hall of Fame has many members who are expert judges, but only one expert referee! Mike Burton, former coach at Auburn High School, then at Eastside Catholic in Bellevue, WA mixes a career of speech and debate coaching and athletic officiating. This unusual combination has won top honors in both fields: Washington State Teacher of the Year, 1994; Washington Interscholastic Activities Hall of Fame; Washington Forensics Hall of Fame; Washington Officials Hall of Fame; National Federation of High Schools Hall of Fame; and Tournament of Champions Hall of Fame. Mike served seven terms as district chair, winning the Distinguished Service Plaque – Sixth Honors, and as National Council alternate. He earned five diamonds. Burton also served a term as president of the National Federation of Officials, a group aiding scholastic sports officials. Coach Burton has produced winners at the state level (36 state championships) and on the national circuit. The year 2000 was particularly gratifying, when Mike’s student Andy O’Connell was a multiple winner of national Lincoln-Douglas invitationals: Glenbrooks; Berkley; Barkley Forum; Minneapple; and Tournament of Champions (TOC). Mike’s greatest regret is not coaching a National Tournament winner. But he officiated a national championship college game! Like the great athletic coaches, Burton stresses the team concept. “We are a team, and a win by an individual is a win for the team,” explains Burton. “Cooperation within the team is mandated and required.” Another athletic principle demanded is fair play. Burton’s rule: “Ethics are the most important thing for an individual.” A final team precept required is respect for all people. Mike the coach and Mike the referee are also Mike the mentor. During his outstanding 39-year career, he has again and again stepped forward to help others. In the classroom, at the tournament, on the court, or on the field, Mike Burton has promoted excellence and ethics. A teacher, a coach, a referee would never settle for less. — Compiled by James Copeland
Inducted 2013 Kansas
Vickie Fellers, a five-diamond coach and co-host of the 2007 Wichita Nationals, has been an exemplary coach of speech and debate. The first half of her 34-year career was at Goddard High School, and the past 17 years have been at Wichita East High School. Vickie is the epitome of integrity and dedication as an ethical educator in her classroom as well as service as a district committee member and Policy Debate tab chair to the NSDA.
Vickie qualified more than 158 students to the National Tournament. Her coaching has propelled 12 students to finish in the top 12 of various events, earning five School of Excellence trophies. During her tenure, the Wichita East chapter has won 16 consecutive National Forensic League Sweepstakes awards and leading chapter awards in 2001 and 2008.
Vickie is not only a successful coach at the national level; her achievements are legendary across the state. She has placed Policy Debate teams at regional contests 12 times since 2000. She’s garnered 14 individual state championships in forensics, one in debate, and placed teams in the top six at state competition for the past 15 years. Vickie is currently serving as chairperson for the KSCA Speech Liaison committee to the KSHSAA, and recently, KSCA inducted Vickie Fellers into their prestigious Hall of Fame. She has twice been named
the DCI Coach of the Year before being welcomed into Hall of Fame status in 2010.
Dr. Robert Littlefield
Inducted 2013 North Dakota
When asked by her coach, the great Glenn Pelham, “What is the goal of life?” Melissa Maxcy Wade answered, “To be happy?” “No,” intoned Pelham, “to serve!” Quite an altruistic goal, but one which has been successfully pursued by Dr. Robert Littlefield. An academic of renown, Robert is a Professor of Communication and co-author of Forensics in America: A History. He was host chair of the wonderful 1992 North Dakota State University Nationals. And he served as a volunteer forensic coach at Fargo Shanley High School (ND), where his children, Brady and Lindsay, achieved national honors as NFL point leaders. Lindsay Littlefield led all students in 1999, the first female in NFL history to win that honor; her brother, Brady was the leader in 2003. During Robert’s coaching tenure, Shanley’s team excelled: eight consecutive district sweepstakes plaques; 66 national entries, covering every main event; 14 NFL All Americans, including seven in the top ten; and a 2003 School of Excellence Award in Debate. At the 2013 International Public Policy Forum at NYU, Robert’s team won the IPPF world title! Robert states, “My philosophy is simple: consistency + heart = success. I encourage students to practice in order to be consistent… One of the hardest lessons to learn for students with talent is they need to develop a consistent performance… In addition, students need to have heart, they need to care, in order to reach their goals.” As a tenured professor, Robert carried a full teaching load, conducted research projects, published articles and a book, served as department chair, and yet made time to serve the NFL and high school students—not just his own children, but all students. Competition is fun; winning is admirable; but it is service to others that truly satisfies! — Compiled by James Copeland
Robert “Bob” Marks
Inducted 2013 Florida
Three-time NSDA national champion Josh Gad wrote, “Bob Marks gave me the resources no other teacher ever provided… Without the guidance and instruction of Bob Marks, my dreams and goals would have had countless limitations… Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Marks, I finally understand how to use my writing skills in such ways as to improve myself and the world around me.” In the book It Doesn’t take A Genius, Hall of Fame members Randall McCutcheon and Dr. Tommie Lindsey, Jr., write, “Bob Marks may well have been the best high school speech coach in America.” Bob has earned his reputation as an outstanding educator and mentor of students and teachers in forensics and theater arts. He helped teams to win 29 state championships and numerous NSDA Awards of Excellence. In the past 35 years, he coached 68 students to final rounds, where 21 were named national champions. However, there is a side of Bob’s work which is not as apparent or quantifiable. Through forensics, he has successfully worked with at-risk students, committing himself to helping students of all abilities, not just “stars.” In 1998, Bob Marks was a Martin Luther King Award winner for his commitment to diversity in education. Bob coached at West Des Moines Valley, Albuquerque Academy, and James Logan, as well as other schools. He served on the Board of Directors for the National Speech Forum, as the Associate Director of the National Speech Forum, and as Director of the Florida Forensic Institute and National Coaches Institute. In “retirement,” he continues to serve the forensic community as a consultant to several programs. Bob’s accolades include the University of Iowa Man of the Year, Outstanding Young Iowan, Outstanding Young American, and Florida’s Historic State Theatre Executive Director’s Award.
Inducted 2013 Indiana
David McKenzie started his NFL/NSDA experience as a high school speaker at Northfield High School in Wabash, Indiana. After majoring in English and Communications at Manchester College, David set out to be a forensic coach. In fact, he hosted his first tournament while a student at Manchester College during his junior year. He has been the Director of Speech and Debate at Plymouth High School since 2000. Before that, he coached at Northfield High School, Oak Hill High School, and Columbia City High School, all in Indiana.
During his tenure, he has been successful as a coach on the local, state, and national levels. David has recorded one Class A state championship, five Class AA state championships, and five Ralph Lawson Trophies for the overall state championship. David was named the National Forensic League Coach of the Year in 2007 and was Indiana’s choice for the National Federation Coach of the Year in addition to being an inductee into the Indiana Hall of Fame. David has coached more than 30 individual state champions, numerous NFL/NSDA national qualifiers, nine national finalists, and national champions in Duo and Oratory. He also coached multiple national champions at the NCFL Tournament. He credits much of his success to his mentors from Indiana, many of whom are in the national Hall of Fame as well. Finally, the phenomenal coaches who worked as assistants at both Northfield and Plymouth contributed significantly to their programs’ successes as well. He wished to recognize that no successful coach does it alone.
David is currently a member of the IHSFA Executive Council, where he serves as a Sectional Representative and member of the Board of Directors. He also served three terms as Board President for the IHSFA. For the NFL/NSDA, he served as district chair of the Northwest Indiana District for over a decade and directed/hosted the District Congress, District Debate, and District Solo Tournaments numerous times. During his time in Northwest Indiana, his program was moved to Northeast Indiana where he now serves on the District Committee and frequently hosts the District Congress and Solo tournaments.
Additionally, for David, this activity has been a family affair. His wife Sarah has coached with him their entire marriage and is the first NFL/NSDA coach to earn a diamond at the high school level as well as the equivalent award at the middle school level. Each of their children, Emily and Trent, worked in tournament offices when they were old enough to walk and learned their alphabet while sorting critiques. The entire family also worked with coaches from throughout Indiana when David volunteered to host the 2012 Indianapolis Crossroads of America Nationals along with a great group of Indiana coaches. Both of their children graduated high school after earning multiple opportunities to represent Plymouth High School at the NSDA National Tournament and continue to use skills they developed through speech and debate.
With all of his success, David still takes the time to mentor new coaches every year, puts on presentations at the state speech coaches’ conference, and is an exemplary teacher at Plymouth High School where he teaches speech and broadcasting.
Gail M. Naylor
Rosella "Rosie" Blunk
Inducted 2010 Massachusetts
As a senior at Struthers High School (OH), Dale DeLetis spoke in the semifinals of Boys’ Extemporaneous at the Miami Nationals in 1959. Thirteen years later, in 1972, Dale built on this high school experience when he began his tenure at Milton Academy (MA) and started the Milton speech team. In 1984, Milton Academy won its first Bruno E. Jacob Trophy, and Dale was recognized with the Bruno E. Jacob Coaches’ Commendation. In 1987, Milton Academy was recognized with the NFL Team National Championship. When Dale officially “stopped coaching” in 1993, he continued to coach in the background and took the novice extempers under his wings until he retired in 2001. He was the initial coach of the 1987 International Extemporaneous Speaking Champion, and six other Milton extempers spoke in their respective finals at Nationals over the years. In all, his students qualified 203 entries to the National Speech & Debate Tournament, earned three National Catholic Forensic League team championships, and won many NCFL individual championships. Four of his students also reached the final round of The American Legion Oratorical Contest. His service has included every kind of position possible within the Massachusetts Forensic League, and his efforts helped to establish the format and standards of that organization. He also served a stint as chair of the New England District from 1975 to 1978. Dale’s students have gone onto remarkable careers in government, medicine, politics, law, and higher education.
J. E. Masters
Bio coming soon!
A nationally recognized expert in Oral Interpretation of Literature of all genres, and a speech coach of national renown, is Tony Figliola, coach at Holy Ghost Prep (PA). He advocated that the National Catholic Forensic League adopt Duo Interpretation at NCFL Tournaments. He wrote the guidelines and developed the event ballot. Tony also urged the NFL to adopt the event in a Rostrum article. Coach Figliola has written detailed handbooks on the Interpretation events and Oratory for several summer speech institutes, where he has been a marquee coach for many years.
Oral Interpretation has not always had the respect it deserved. The NFL was mainly a debate league, mirroring its collegiate progenitor Pi Kappa Delta. Founder Bruno Jacob always said, “Debate is King; Oratory is its Queen.” Dramatic and Humorous contests were held at the first Nationals, but in the form of memorized Declamation. Only years later were scripted events added: Poetry and Prose as supplemental events. Points awarded for Interpretation events were less than in original contests. Not until the 21st century were scripted events given trials and adopted and credit points equalized. Tony and his colleagues finally prevailed.
Mr. Figliola led the Holy Ghost squad to 17 Pennsylvania state team titles and coached individuals to win more than 100 state championships! At the NCFL Grand Tournament, Tony and co-coach, John Buettler, placed 65 finalists. Champions numbered two in Oratory; seven in Oral Interp; and seven in Duo. In the NFL/NSDA Nationals, more than 20 students reached the final round; nine placed in the top three, including a championship in Duo Interpretation. Holy Ghost earned four Leading Chapter Awards and won ten District Tournament Plaques and five Trophies. Tony, a member of the Pennsylvania Speech Hall of Fame, earned four diamonds.
Literature holds up a mirror to life; Oral Interpretation is its voice; Tony Figliola is its advocate.
— Compiled by James Copeland
It was crisis time in December, 1997. A California school district that had agreed to host the 1997 National Tournament abruptly resigned. After several weeks of fruitless search, President Billy Tate asked Mel Olson, Arizona district chair, to host. Mel graciously agreed, and in less than 18 months presented one of the best planned, conducted, and popular events in NFL history.
Mr. Olson began his brilliant career at Moundsview High School (MN) but moved to Arizona for the warm weather. He immediately began to build a world class speech and theater program at Dobson High School. His chapter was usually the largest in Arizona, and almost always led the district in new members each year. Dobson won the Leading Chapter Award in 2000. Mel’s squad was very successful, winning nine District Sweepstakes Plaques and three cumulative District Sweepstakes Trophies. Coach Olson qualified more than 100 Arizona students to Nationals, including a champion Duo Interpretation team, a runner-up in Dramatic Interpretation, and a first and a third in Impromptu. Mel’s squad won 14 consecutive state tournaments and countless individual championships! He coached a Humor champion at Harvard and finalists at the Harvard and Berkeley tournaments.
One of his most effective coaching techniques was to stage a “performance night” where his students would formally present their pieces to an audience of Mel’s friends. State and National Tournament qualifiers were motivated to perform well, and they gained valuable audience experience.
Coach Olson’s philosophy: “Make sure everyone feels positive about what they are doing. I want them to know I appreciate their work. They need to be needed.” Mel earned three diamonds and Silver and Bronze Awards as district chair. He is totally involved with speech and judges all year long. “It is wonderful to see the ‘Good’ students… I constantly recommend that students get involved with speech and debate.” Mel Olson, Arizona and NSDA honoree, delivered a perfect speech, at his induction dinner. His students would have been proud.
— Compiled by James Copeland
In 2007, Bertha (Betty) Whitlock was awarded the Thomas Glenn Pelham Commendation, an elegant obelisk inscribed: “In recognition of devotion to the forensic arts.” Devotion!
Betty taught the forensic arts for 42 years. Her philosophy in her own words: “I have stressed the growth of learning over winning. I want my students to…build skills that will allow them to communicate effectively in their adult lives… Speech and debate makes a life difference. I, of course, was excited about the national champions, but the most exciting was when a student who had worked with me for four years…won fourth place…at a local tournament, earning his first award.” And Betty did coach national champions—a Senate champion in 1998, and two Top Presiding Officers, 1997 in the Senate and 2000 in the House.
Ms. Whitlock’s devotion to Mississippi forensics is legendary. An expert coach of Congressional Debate, Betty directed the Mississippi Youth Congress for two decades. In addition, she was instrumental in the development of the Stennis Novice Speech and Debate Tournament at Mississippi State University. Betty, sponsor Rex Buffington, Director of Stennis Center for Public Leadership, and NSDA President and friend Billy Tate, created an opportunity for Deep South novices to participate in a variety of events to jump start their new forensic careers.
Betty served her state organization, the Mississippi High School Activities Association, and was a member of the National Federation Speech and Debate Committee. She was chosen to the Fine Arts Section of the NFHS Hall of Fame.
Betty believes, “Coaching contributed so much to me as an individual. I am more knowledgeable in so many different areas…” A humble statement from someone who spent a lifetime teaching thousands of students “the forensic arts.” Devotion!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Pam Cady Wycoff
The pillar of this exceptional woman’s career is a quotation from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.” Pam believes in the importance of team: “Students joined together achieve a level of excellence…that no one could achieve alone.” Her coaching philosophy: “It’s not about winning. Excellence is the goal—winning is a bonus.”
Pam’s Cady’s first team was at Mankato Loyola (MN), a tiny school of 200, where a quarter of the students were on the team. During her tenure, Loyola established a record, cumulative total of Class A medalists at the Minnesota state finals. Notably, her student won the first state LD festival.
Pam’s second team, Apple Valley High School (MN), became a state and national power. She introduced LD Debate and coached two debaters to close out the state LD final round! Nationally, she coached champions in International Extemp, Oratory (first and second in 1995), Prose Reading, and Expository Speaking. In 1998, the team won the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob Trophy.
Pam Cady’s third team was formed when she married Joe Wycoff in 1999. Together, they coached 73 state champions, five national champions in Oratory, and one in Dramatic Interpretation.
Pam’s career totals: more than 40 national finalists, ten champions, and 18 runners-up. The Apple Valley team won School of Excellence Awards or Sweepstakes Trophies in 24 different years.
A six-diamond coach, Pam was named “Coach of the Year” in 2009. Other honors include a Pelham Commendation from Emory University; the Distinguished Service Key and Plaque – Eleventh Honors from the NSDA; and membership in the MSHSL Hall of Fame. Elected four times to the NSDA Board of Directors, she now serves as Board President.
In 2016, the NSDA named Oratory “Joe and Pam Wycoff Original Oratory” after the couple. Pam responded, “To share this honor together is the highlight of our career, and one we will always cherish.”
Pam Cady Wycoff and her students, working together as a team, changed their world.
— Compiled by James Copeland
To Gay Brasher, it’s is all about opportunity. That is why Gay established a speech team in each of the six high schools in the San Jose Unified School District. During the early years, she coached at every school and the students traveled together. Although representing their own school, they formed close friendships, supported each other, and learned the true meaning of “team.”
Opportunity is why her school, Leland, serves more than 300 students annually and is always one of the nation’s largest teams, the largest NFL team in the United States more times than any other school. Providing opportunity for students is why Gay Brasher won the NSDA James M. Copeland Coach of the Year award in 2001 and earned her seventh diamond in 2017.
Gay Brasher is proud that Leland speakers won the California state tournament twice, and proud of several National finalists, including a runner-up in DI. The size of the team prevents national travel, but students regularly enjoy superior competition at tournaments sponsored by California colleges and universities, which draw top teams from all over the country. More than 100 Leland students compete each year; many have won awards and all have received great learning experiences and the opportunity to test their skills against the nation’s best.
Coach Brasher believes speech and debate life skills should be available to, and attainable by, any student who has the desire to learn and is willing to work. Gay Brasher was teacher of the year in Louisiana in 1968. In 1970, she came to California, and feared she might not be successful. But three future Hall of Fame sisters—Carmendale Fernandes, Natalie Weber, and Shirley Keller-Firestone—supported her and provided both advice and inspiration.
Gay wishes to “thank all of the great coaches who have taught and continue to invigorate me; and to emphasize that even after 49 years as a teacher, I truly believe that I am still learning so much every day.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Sister Mary Patricia Plumb
Many members in the Hall of Fame have rendered great service to their students, their school, the NDSA, and their profession. But one among us may have provided perfect service: Sister Mary Patricia Plumb, coach at Academy of Holy Names (FL). A Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, she serves as teacher, coach, administrator, and campus minister.
Sister Mary Patricia has worked for many years as a state league (FFP) councilor, a member of the NFL/NDSA Florida Sunshine District Committee, and as “perpetual” president of the Florida Gulf Coast Catholic Forensic League. She humorously asks, “Are these ‘accomplishments’ or just ‘proof of insanity’…not sure which? We all did our parts and made it work for students.” For years, Sister Mary worked to insure a smooth check out procedure at the National Tournament.
She believes “students need to be motivated, supported, and instructed properly; however, they must have the ‘inner fire’ for this activity. The work, and hence the honors, must come from them.” Sister Mary reports that she is exhilarated that former students still stay in touch with her. Two students in particular are remembered by Sister Mary as possessing that “inner fire”: Laura Ann Fernandez and Megan O’ Conner. Laura qualified for both NFL and NCFL Nationals every year except freshman year, when she was ill. She excelled in Congress, LD, and Extemp, and was recognized nationally on the NFL high point student list. Megan performed in the final round of Drama at both NFL and NCFL Nationals.
In 2007, Sister Mary celebrated her Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years as a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. In 2016, she received her seventh diamond, marking an incredible 35 years of coaching. It is clear that Sister Mary holds an inner fire for the activity herself.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Bio coming soon!
H. B. Mitchell was the best Policy Debate coach of his time. Ted Belch was the best Policy Debate coach of all time. But recognize that only Aaron Timmons of Greenhill School (TX) has coached multiple champions in two debate divisions. Aaron, a shy but intense man, has coached Lincoln-Douglas debaters and Policy Debate teams to achieve consistently superior results in every forum.
His success at the NSDA finals is nonpareil: Policy champions in 1996 (including top speaker) and 1998; Policy runners-up in 2001, 2005, and 2011 (losing two decisions by a single vote); Lincoln-Douglas champions in 1990, 1997, 2015, and 2016; LD runner-up in 1993; and the National Tournament high point student in 1990. Teams coached by Aaron and his wife Cindi (then coach at Colleyville Heritage High School) almost debated in the 1998 Policy finals. A questionable decision in semis prevented a marital match-up. Aaron coached Cindi’s team during their 2002 tournament run to finals. She was home with newborn son, Joshua.
Mr. Timmons has coached 24 TFA state champions in Policy and LD; five champions and three finalists at the TOC, as well as top speakers, in both policy and LD; achieved NDCA champions and finalists in both; and won every major national circuit invitational at least once. The Barkley Forum honored Aaron with the Glenn Pelham Commendation, and the NDCA presented him with the David Baker Award. He was selected coach of the 2016 USA Debate Team, which competes in World Schools Debate. Aaron has earned four coaching diamonds. Greenhill, named one of the top programs of the 20th century by the NSDA, won two Leading Chapter Awards. Aaron, member of the TOC and the TFA Halls of Fame, is a leader in promoting more diversity of both coaches and students in all forms of debate.
Mr. Timmons’ coaching stresses strong research, recognizes technology, and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. His three core principles are commitment, teamwork, and hard work. Aaron is interested in brain research to learn how students learn, and the science of persuasion to help students construct better arguments. To Aaron, debate is not just about winning contests; it is about teaching students to leave “no stone unturned” to achieve their very best.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Timothy C. Averill
Coaching at Manchester, Manchester-Essex, and Waring School, Tim Averill has compiled an outstanding record in all three forms of competitive debate: Policy, Lincoln-Douglas, and Public Forum. In 1987, his Policy team won the both the TOC and NFL Nationals. They defeated a fine St. Mark’s team from Texas in the NFL final round, after splitting decisions with them in two earlier rounds—the only time two teams have met three times in the same National Tournament!
Tim’s deep interest and métier for many years was Lincoln-Douglas, but he proved both his skill and versatility by also successfully coaching Public Forum. When his team closed out the 2006 final round; he joined Hall of Fame colleagues Catherine Bennett and William Woods Tate, Jr., as coaches whose teams closed out an NFL National Tournament debate final round!
Mr. Averill has been honored as NFL Coach of the Year in 2005, as a Barkley Forum Key Coach, a recipient of the Pelham Award, and as a member of the Massachusetts Speech and Debate Hall of Fame. His service to his profession includes working with his state league to build Public Forum and his support of the Boston Debate League, one of the most active Urban Debate Leagues in the country.
An ally and supporter of his students, Tim is proud he does not do the student’s work, but trains them to present their work publicly to be judged. About 25% of the student body each year participates in his program. He enjoys coaching novices, and says his most thrilling moment each year occurs when, after their initial tournament, the novices realize that they are indeed debaters.
Tim’s profession is teaching, but his hobby is the great Italian game, Bocce. He built a bocce court in his backyard, where Tim and his debaters had many a game, while discussing winning arguments.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Dr. Kenny Barfield
In the president’s office at Mars Hill Bible School hangs a chart from a past debate tournament, announcing the quarter final pairings. Such a chart is posted at every tournament, except this chart is unique. Every quarterfinal team listed is from one school: Mars Hill closed out the quarterfinal round!
President, pastor, teacher, and coach, Dr. Kenny Barfield is a renowned figure in American forensics. His Mars Hill students compete nationally and succeed nationally at all levels, from novice (winner of the Midwest Novice Championship) to national circuit varsity (TOC semifinalist). Kenny’s team record includes more than 50 state championships, and qualification for elimination rounds and speaker awards at major invitational tournaments: Harvard, Princeton, Emory, Duke, Berkeley, Wake Forest, USC, and the Glenbrooks! Mars Hill thrice qualified to represent Alabama at the Bicentennial Youth Debates, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Selected to the Alabama Speech and Debate Hall of Fame, and chosen a Barkley Forum Key Coach, Dr. Barfield was a founding member of both the NFL Deep South District and the Alabama Speech and Debate Association. As Mars Hill president, Dr. Barfield arranged a large donation to ensure the school’s mission would continue. Pastor Barfield’s coaching philosophy is Christian based. He recognizes and builds upon the talent of each individual and recognizes that each student learns differently. He offers each student the same opportunity for success.
Debate at Mars Hill teaches life skills. “As a debate coach,” Kenny says,” I need to teach my debaters the importance of being a good listener, and the importance of evaluating all the information they have at their disposal.” What is key for Pastor Barfield is that he imitates the love and philosophy of Jesus Christ. What is important to Coach Barfield is that he treat every student with dignity and respect. Dr. Barfield’s hope is that, in some way, every student is better off having known him.
Dr. Kenny Barfield’s expertise may be represented by awards; Mars Hill’s accomplishments may be proclaimed by charts. But their entwined legacy is the hundreds of students made better by the respect and teaching offered to each and every one.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Jeffrey Wortman, the only person to win NFL Policy Debate as a student, and win again as a coach, described Glenda Ferguson as “a nice lady who will do anything she can to support debate.” True. As a coach of debaters, as tournament director, as NDCA cofounder, and as NFL Executive Councilor, Glenda was a major force in national Policy Debate and competitive forensics for decades. Glenda’s teams appeared regularly in elimination rounds at major national circuit tournaments. Her students won Top Speaker and runnerup in Policy Debate at NFL Nationals, and International Extemporaneous Speaking at state. Glenda herself won major honors including the Pelham Award, NDCA Educator of the Year, and initiation into the Texas Forensic Hall of Fame.
Glenda was at her very best conducting tournaments! As host director of the fine 2001 Oklahoma Nationals, she worked tirelessly to make sure every item was perfect on the beautiful University of Oklahoma campus. Council liaison to the National LD tab room during the years when LD was the largest event, Glenda supervised the event flawlessly, year after year. Her most challenging tournament was 2003 in Atlanta. There were never enough rooms. Glenda placed debates in restrooms and hallways. She ran rounds from early morning to late evening. Tournament Director Jim Copeland remarked, “If it were not for Glenda, the Atlanta tournament would have never ended!”
Students loved Glenda. She knew, “teenagers are people…they need to be treated with respect. If they believe you care, they will work harder… Find someplace where each kid can find success.” Ms. Ferguson has a wonderful family: husband Don and daughters Kelli and Lesli. The support of the family was essential so Glenda could accomplish all of her demanding jobs. Glenda realized, “Speech and debate has provided the opportunity for wonderful people to come into my life. It is with a sense of satisfaction to realize that God put me right where I was supposed to be.” Everybody in the debate community agrees; God put Glenda with all of us!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Gloria Jennings Robinson
A most gracious hostess and a most successful coach was Gloria Jennings Robinson, initially at St. James School (TN) and later at Ronald Reagan High School (TX). With skill and southern charm, Gloria was hostess each year at the unique Southern Bell Forum, hosted by the late NSDA Board President Billy Tate. The event was elegant; Gloria’s young female students provided impeccable service at tournament social events and in the judges’ lounge, while Gloria managed planning, preparation, and serving.
Gloria coached at St. James School with future Hall of Fame coach Michele Coody. St. James led Alabama three years in new student members, twice featured the high point student, and won the Leading Chapter Award. At the district tournament, the squad won three Sweepstakes Plaques and two District Trophies. Twenty qualifiers attended Nationals, including a champion and second place finish in Congressional Debate–Senate, and third places in Prose and Commentary.
As coach at Ronald Reagan for five years, Gloria’s squad established a fine record in the highly competitive Central Texas District. The chapter was twice the district’s largest and twice enrolled the most new members. Four years Gloria coached the district high point leader. Reagan also received a Leading Chapter Award. At the district tournament, the team won the Sweepstakes Plaque and the District Trophy. Two debate teams, 13 speakers, and two Congress delegates qualified to Nationals.
Gloria’s squads also had impressive results at UIL and TFA, the state tournaments in Texas, and at the Barkley Forum. Gloria served as Deep South district chair, earning a Bronze and Silver Award. She achieved three diamonds for her key, and was a Gold Key coach at the Barkley Forum.
Gloria Robinson was one of the best individual events coaches ever to leave speech to instead choose her first love, drama. She continued at Reagan directing plays and musicals until retirement.
Forensics’ loss was Dramatics’ gain.
— Compiled by James Copeland
When asked her philosophy of coaching, Ms. Dukes quoted the English author Somerset Maugham: “…if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” Marilee Dukes, longtime coach at Vestavia Hills High School (AL) made “accepting only the best” her standard. Her students’ best was often the best in the nation. Ms. Dukes was first to coach a champion in Policy Debate and in Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the National Tournament. Her students also won or placed well at the TOC, the Glenbrooks, and the MBA Southern Bell Forum. She coached a number of Silver Key student winners at the Barkley Forum of Emory University, where Ms. Dukes is a Key Coach.
Her victories at home are as impressive as her national record: sweepstakes winner at Alabama’s largest invitational tournament ten different years; sweepstakes winner at every Alabama tournament in one single year; winner of 12 Plaques and five Trophies at NFL District Tournaments. Marilee and her great friend Pat Bailey are rabid fans of the teams at the University of Alabama. In 2012, the Crimson Tide woman’s softball team played in the finals of the College World Series. Marilee and Pat were there to cheer them to victory!
After coaching in Mississippi, Ms. Dukes began building the Vestavia Hills team in 1983. Her chapter was largest in the district in 13 different years and won three Leading Chapter plaques. Ten years the Vestavia Hills chapter led the Deep South District in new member enrollment. Three students coached by Marilee led their district, and placed nationally, in NFL points earned. Marilee Dukes was awarded four diamonds for her key and the district chair Bronze Award. Ms. Dukes qualified 88 entrants to the National Tournament, including a first in Policy, two firsts and two semifinalists LD. Sixteen students qualified to the National Congress. Two of her LD champions debated at the National Press Club in Washington before media star and former NFL champion Jane Pauley. Roll ‘Bama; Roll Tide; Roll Vestavia; Roll Marilee!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Pamela K. McComas
Her nickname is “The Bulldog”! Hardly a proper moniker for such an intelligent and caring lady. But apt, if one considers the description of that breed by the announcer at the famous Westminster Dog Show: “The bulldog’s traits of courage and tenacity are a symbol of determination.” And a most determined lady is Pam. She is determined that students define and reach their goals, determined that tournaments be run fairly and competently, and determined that the Board of Directors provide exceptional leadership and ethical governance to the National Speech & Debate Association.
Coach McComas has compiled a record of excellence in one of the nation’s most competitive states, Kansas. Thirteen years her squad won the State 6A Speech Sweepstakes, eight consecutively. Pam coached more than 30 individual speech and four debate state champions. Her Topeka High School Chapter won three Leading Chapter Awards, and produced 19 district point leading students, including three, first in the nation.
Ms. McComas qualified more than 180 students to the National Tournament, accruing five champions, a runner-up debate team, finalists in all but three events, and the 1999 Bruno E. Jacob Trophy. Pam’s philosophy of coaching is “every student can be successful—it does not matter how many medals/trophies you win; it is about ‘life skills’ you take away from the activity.” Her professional service includes nine years as district chair, winning three Gold Awards; election to the NSDA Board of Directors; chair of the NFHS Debate Topic Selection Committee; and president of the Kansas Speech Communication Association. Pam’s awards include Kansas High School Teacher of the Year; the NSDA Distinguished Service Key and Plaque (Third Honors), and seven coaching diamonds.
Who has the dedication to make every student successful? Who has the tenacity to make every tournament perfect? Who is committed to listening to all concerns? Who let the “Bulldog” out!
— Compiled by James Copeland
In every state, there is one coach who is so competent and so willing to serve others that he is consistently called upon to accept positions of leadership and the work required by those jobs. In Wisconsin, that trusted man is Ron Steinhorst.
A member of the Wisconsin Forensic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Ron was twice elected as the President of the WFCA. Moreover, he served as tournament director of their state tournament for 16 years. He was invaluable, during the early years of the WFCA, in representing the benefits of WFCA membership to the Northern Wisconsin coaches, and thereby insuring that the organization would be state wide.
He has served at the NFL/NSDA National Tournament for three decades as an important member of the judging committee, working long hours resolving judge conflicts and making substitutions.
Ron is the quintessential small town coach: “As a single coach working with as many as 45 students in an extracurricular program,” he relates, “one can spend only so much time with each. I like to think of…moving them forward through experience, hoping they will absorb some of the techniques employed by their competitors. When ranks of 5 become 4’s and 3’s, there is time for celebration. Unfortunately, too much emphasis is placed on the trophies and medals…” Ron continues, “Most disappointing moments occur when talented students choose to drop their speech/debate career for jobs and other activities that are not lifelong benefits.”
But Coach Steinhorst has had exhilarating moments: coaching a two-time NCFL Oratory national champion; qualifying students for break rounds at every NCFL Nationals since 1981; helping students with very little skill, become polished, confident speakers, who use their new skills for life.
Ronald Steinhorst was presented the initial William Hintz Award for coaching excellence. “Forensics has been my family,” says Ron. “I feel so proud being in the Hall of Fame.”
The NSDA is very proud of five-diamond, hard working coach, Ron Steinhorst!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Anne M. Sullivan
Bio coming soon!
David, “we hardly knew ye.” After a brief, meteoric career, one of the finest young debate coaches in America suddenly abandoned Policy Debate coaching and became an administrator. Formerly student teacher for Hall of Fame coach Glenda Ferguson, and Policy Debate coach at the elite St. Mark’s School of Texas, David is now Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at that school.
The pressure of coaching Policy Debate teams on the national circuit prepared David for the difficult job of making life altering decisions about which students will be selected by St. Mark’s. And David’s honest and empathetic personality is helpful in softening parental disappointments.
During Mr. Baker’s brief coaching years, his Policy Debate team won a national championship in 1990. He coached two national runner-ups: 1987, the only Policy Debate tournament in history where the finalist teams met three times; and 1992, a disappointment, where David blames himself “because of bad advice I gave the team.” In 2002, a St. Mark’s team won again with a different coach, but with students coached by David in their younger years on the team. David’s teams also won two Barkley Forum debate championships and a TFA state championship.
David believed, “Debaters should learn debate as a process of logic, rather than a set of rules. Teams who understand principles of logic and reasoning are much…more likely to succeed…” A two-diamond coach, Mr. Baker served his profession as a founder of the National Debate Coaches Association (NDCA); NFL district chair; and president of the Texas Forensic Association (TFA).
His honors include the TFA Hall of Fame and a Thomas Glenn Pelham Obelisk from the Barkley Forum for “devotion to the forensic arts, which teaches motivation, integrity, and character.”
David has a commitment to students: once a heavy cigarette smoker, he quit, and encouraged young debaters who smoked to re-examine their decision to smoke.
David “we hardly knew ye,” but we knew enough; we knew you belonged in the Hall of Fame!
— Compiled by James Copeland
A tragedy. A caring husband, father, teacher, coach, and valued colleague died far too soon. Tom Montgomery was teacher and coach at Lodi High School (CA). For 15 years, he supervised the speech tab room at the National Tournament, many of those years with his great friend and Hall of Fame colleague Donovan Cummings. Tom and Donovan invented the California Plan of elimination which reformed the earlier Up/Down system of ranking, always complex and often unfair.
Thomas Montgomery was a high school debater and Extemporaneous speaker at small Ripon High School (CA) where he qualified twice for the state tournament. Tom received a debate scholarship to The University of the Pacific where he had an 80% win rate as a freshman, and often debated against future Redlands College debate coach, Bill Southworth.
Coach Montgomery began his teaching career at Lodi High School in 1977. He coached four students to championships at the nation’s largest state tournament. He served as co-chair of the Individual Events tab room for 19 years and was elected by his colleagues to the CHSSA Hall of Fame. His Lodi NFL Chapter earned four Leading Chapter Awards. At the Big Valley district tournament, Lodi won the District Tournament Sweepstakes Plaque and Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophy. Tom qualified 53 students to the National Tournament, including a champion in Expository Speaking and finalists in Dramatic and United State Extemp. He qualified three to the National Congress.
Tom was a five-diamond key coach. He served two years as district chair and was honored with the NFL Distinguished Service Key and Plaque for his service at the National Tournament.
Tom Montgomery died suddenly in 2004, found in his car, dead of a heart attack. Every person who knew him was shocked and saddened. In the novel Life of Pi, Yann Martel writes one of the saddest lines in fiction: “…in the end the whole of life is an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
John E. Sexton
One of the great high school debate coaches of all time, John Sexton compiled a brilliant record during the few years he coached. As a college student and walk-on coach, he founded a debate program at St. Brendan’s, a small Catholic girls’ high school in Brooklyn. During John’s brief tenure (1961-1975), the St. Brendan’s girls won a record five National Catholic Forensic League debate championships. Moreover, they won every national invitational debate tournament at least once and several multiple times, including two Barkley Forum championships. John ran the team as a family with the motto, “work hard and care for each other.” A large family indeed, the Chapter was three times the largest in the New York City District, as well as perennial New York state debate champions.
In NFL competition, John’s team dominated the district, qualifying for seven National Tournaments, finishing fifth in 1965, and reaching the final round in 1967. Since the first National Tournament in 1931, no female team had ever won NFL Policy Debate.
Hopes were high that the Brendan’s girls would be the first. But the ladies lost a close 3-2 decision to a South Carolina team coached by Jimmie Mann. It would be 1995 until a female team would win NFL debate; as late as 2017, it remained the only one.
St. Brendan’s closed in 1975, but the success of its debate program lives on. John Sexton graduated with honors from Harvard Law and later became Dean of the Law School at New York University. John now serves as President of NYU. His debaters also succeeded.
John proudly says, “These remarkable women lead some of our nation’s colleges, law firms, medical practices, businesses, and classrooms. It is remarkably fulfilling to hear from them the role that their time in debate still plays, decades later, in the wonderful lives they live.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Deborah E. Simon
Bio coming soon!
Family is important to members in the NSDA Hall of Fame. Many have coached their own children. Dan Tyree—coach, superintendent, and now back as assistant coach at Plymouth High School (IN)—is a prime example. Daughter Katie won both Dramatic and Prose at the Indiana State Speech Tournament. She placed third in Dramatic at Nationals; brother Jon placed ninth. Sister Nancy won the State Mental Attitude Award, “given to one student who excels in academics, forensics, service, and leadership.”
Dan coached 25 years before becoming Plymouth Superintendent of Schools. His team was one of the most powerful chapters in a powerful state. In Northern Indiana, the juggernaut of Plymouth, Munster, and Chesterton produced many champions and five Hall of Fame coaches. The Plymouth squad was the largest in the district 13 years and led in new members 11 times. This dominance earned three Leading Chapter Awards. At the district tournament, Tyree’s team won a yearly Sweepstakes Plaque and three cumulative Sweepstakes Trophies.
At the National Tournament, Plymouth scored a finalist in Dramatic, a second in U.S. Extemp, and Katie Tyree, third in Dramatic.
Dan Tyree’s coaching philosophy “is to develop students into competent and confident speakers…” and is built upon the idea that “it’s important to teach students to perform at their best in stressful situations. These skills are useful in life, not just forensic competitions.” Dan concludes with an original and powerful idea: “I never really evaluated my success with students until I saw how they used their skills in adult life.”
Now a retired superintendent, Coach Tyree has returned to the NSDA. He says, “The most rewarding position I held during my 43 years in education is coaching speech and debate.”
Daniel Tyree is a five-diamond coach. His wife Charlotte earned four diamonds. Their children won honors in speech competitions. Family!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Coach of champion students, mother of champion children (Charlie and Amy), wife of top trial lawyer, Steven Berger (she aspired to study the law herself), Fran Berger was a tremendously talented woman.
Fran’s Miami-Palmetto chapter was seven years the largest in the South Florida District, twice in the top five nationally. Palmetto earned three Leading Chapter Awards. Mrs. Berger served as South Florida district chair for three terms and was awarded the NSDA Distinguished Service Key and Plaque. Fran also earned four diamonds for her key and was presented the honored Barkley Forum Key at Emory University.
The Palmetto squad competed everywhere and was successful everywhere. Winning or placing in many cities and at University sponsored tournaments: Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Nashville, Harvard, Emory, and other stops on the national circuit. When Palmetto had the home field advantage, they were unstoppable. At the South Florida district tournament, they won six Sweepstakes Plaques and three cumulative Sweepstakes Trophies. Coach Berger’s squads qualified 72 students to the National Tournament and five delegates to the National Congress. Competing at Nationals, Palmetto placed twice in the National Sweepstakes top ten. Three students won finalist trophies, while five others placed in semifinal rounds.
Fran was always in style-elegantly dressed and coiffed at major events. She was enormously popular with students and colleagues alike. Fran loved her husband, her children, and her students. And everyone loved Fran. The entire NSDA community mourned her passing in 2008.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Only a few honorees of the NSDA Hall of Fame have won coaching kudos at both the high school and collegiate level. One such member is Gary Harmon, coach for 20 years at Salina Central High School. Gary made Central a West Kansas powerhouse: three years the largest chapter; two years the leader in new members; and two years the recipient of the Leading Chapter Award. At the West Kansas district tournament, Gary’s squad won a District Sweepstakes Plaque and the District Cumulative Trophy twice. Harmon also coached a district leading point student, Kena Tague, who later became an NSDA coach. Gary earned six diamonds during his 32-year high school teaching career.
Harmon coached several state champions in the tough Kansas state tournament: four in Policy Debate, one in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and two in Congressional Debate.
Coach Harmon qualified 31 students to the National Tournament: three debate teams, five LD debaters, and six speakers. Fourteen more were delegates to the National Congress. He coached a national champion in the Senate and other award winners.
Gary Harmon made a tremendous contribution to the management of the Congress event. As Director of the Congress, he worked closely with Hall of Fame coach Harold Keller, Clerk of Congress and developer of modern Congressional Debate competition. The partnership between Gary and Harold solidly established Congress as a main event.
Retiring from high school coaching in 2002 did not mean Gary was retiring. He currently coaches debate and individual events at Kansas Wesleyan University. True to form, Gary has coached several national champions in Pi Kappa Delta collegiate events.
Coach Harmon recalls the most exhilarating moments in his career came when he was running the National Congress with the legendary Harold Keller. Gary sums up his wonderful 50-year career by saying, “Disappointments were short term. Exhilaration has lasted a lifetime.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Judy Garland sang it; Randy Pierce did it. “Meet me in St. Louis… Meet me at the fair…” In 1998, Randy, coach at Pattonville High School, his wife, fellow coach Rebecca, and the Eastern Missouri coaches created an event to rival the fair: the St. Louis Nationals. NBC star Stone Phillips delivered the opening speech; James Unger spoke, honoring deceased NFL president Lanny Naegelin; and Mark Ferguson produced an awards gala that Ed Sullivan would have called “a really great shew”! Randy’s meticulous planning and flawless execution made “meeting in St. Louis” memorable indeed.
Eight-diamond coach Randy Pierce is no stranger to awards. He was recipient of every award bestowed by the Speech and Theater Association of Missouri (STAM): Outstanding Teacher, the Loren Reid Service Award, and the Emeritus Award. The NSDA has presented Randy with the Distinguished Service Key and the Distinguished Service Plaque – Fourth Honors.
Mr. Pierce coached six state champion mock trial teams and state champions in Debate, Extemp and Oratory. Randy has qualified more than 125 students to Nationals, many in Congress. His team won a Karl E. Mundt Congressional Debate Trophy and a third place in Public Forum Debate.
For more than 20 years, Pattonville was the largest Chapter in the Eastern Missouri District, placing nationally 13 times in chapter size or new members, and earning six Leading Chapter Awards.
Pierce proudly coached two NFL All Americans and seven Academic All Americans. Randy’s philosophy: “Expose as many students as possible, of all ability levels, to the benefits of speech and debate.” Randy’s bliss: “Hearing students, formerly full of self-doubt, return from their first tournament bubbling with enthusiasm…”
Randy’s satisfaction: having his African American debate team win an overwhelmingly White debate tournament. Randy’s sorrow: cuts to the speech program and speech staff after his retirement. Missouri is the “Show Me” state, and for 39 great years, Randy demonstrated excellence!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Sr. Mary Raimonde, FDC
Bio coming soon!
Longtime coach at the Academy of Holy Names (NY), where she began teaching in 1934, Margaret initially coached students to perform in inter-city tournaments and American Legion contests. After her husband died in 1968, she began coaching several afternoons a week of NFL speech contest events, including her favorite, Dramatic Interpretation. Margaret often recruited students from the Drama Club for her team.
When asked if great New York coaches, like Lucille Stevens or NCFL President Maryann Addy, were her role models, Margaret demurred. Her models were “the Sisters at Holy Names, whom I always felt led and taught more by example… I always admired John Murphy and Brother Anthony Cavet…who never hid their faith, but set a high standard for others to follow.” Faith always played the central role in Margaret’s teaching and coaching.
Academy of the Holy Names students participated in the New York State League, The National Catholic Forensic League, and the NFL (now NSDA). Margaret’s school received its Charter in 1969. She qualified 12 young ladies to NFL Nationals and more to the NCFL Grand Tournament. Margaret was a master coach. “I never wanted a student to rise too quickly,” recalls Mrs. Riley, “as I felt too much ego built from early success, led to a flawed self-vison. I always admired the less talented student, whose success was built on…hard work and careful nurturing… Public speech and team debate builds strength of character, discipline, and self-assurance—in other words, life skills.”
Her advice rings true: “Recruit not only the talented, but those reticent to step forward. Seek them out, for they won’t come to you… but the effort will be gratifying both for you and them.” Margaret’s disappointment was that her son John never participated; she wanted to coach the boy. But her daughters and John’s son had success on her team.
Margaret Riley lived more than 100 years. She lived and taught as a woman of faith.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Ron Carr, longtime coach at Sarasota Riverview High School (FL), is a modest man. Ron always prefers to credit Hall of Fame mentors Ralph Carey, Etta Scarborourgh, and Albert Odom, as well as his students. But his remarkable record as district chair and coach is his own.
Ron was instrumental in splitting Florida into three districts and chaired the Sunshine District for 21 years. He won three Gold Awards and was District Chair of the Year in 1998. As a young coach, Ron built Riverview into a powerhouse. Eighteen years Ron’s chapter was the district’s largest, eight years in the national top ten. Eighteen years Riverview led the district in new members, 14 times in the national top ten, including a second and three third places. Coach Carr’s squad won six Leading Chapter Awards. Ron earned seven diamonds.
His team performed well at the district tournament: eight Sweepstakes Plaques, five Sweepstakes Trophies, and 74 national qualifiers. Ron’s first entrant in 1971 was Monica Kelly, daughter of Emmett Kelly, the world’s most famous clown. The team won a School of Excellence Award in 1999.
Carr’s philosophy stressed organization and inclusion: Varsity members taught novices; anyone could compete as much as they wished. In the annual Maroon and White intra-school tournament, every team member competed. Judging was done by faculty, administration, parents, and community leaders. This strategy provided a goal for students and tremendous goodwill for Ron’s program.
Currently, Ron is fighting stage four prostate cancer. His treatments are aggressive, but he stays positive “reflecting on those special moments that have made my journey through life unique. My journey to this point in time has been the best of the best, because I have been able to share my journey with so many creative and passionate individuals. Today, most of my fears…have been replaced with fascination. It is as if I am seeing things for the first time. That unique joy feeds my spirit! And once again, I come back to the realization of just how blessed my journey has been.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Massachusetts; New Mexico
Randy McCutcheon is an author. But more than just an author, Mr. McCutcheon is an authority! He is a nationally known expert on communication and thinking. His 11 titles include the widely adopted textbooks Communication Matters (with Hall of Fame coach Joe Wycoff) and Journalism Matters. His award-winning books include Get off my Brain, New York Public Library Book of the Year; and Can You Find It, Ben Franklin National Book of the Year. Randy also joined with Hall of Fame coach Dr. Tommie Lindsey, Jr., to write It Doesn’t Take a Genius. His first book was the best-selling Glencoe Speech (also with Wycoff). Randy’s SAT and ACT preparation guides reached number one in their category on Amazon. Nearly 500,000 copies of McCutcheon’s trade and textbooks have been sold.
Reviewers have raved over Randy’s teaching style:
“Randy has figured out how to teach someone else… he is one of the greats…” (Eric Liu, speechwriter for President Clinton)
“A lively style that can take care of itself.” (John Updike, Pulitzer Prize winning author)
Those who can’t do, teach. NOT! Four-diamond coach Randy led teams in four different states to 25 state championships and national team championships in the NFL and NCFL. More than 200 of Randy’s students qualified for Nationals, more than 20 reached finals, and seven were crowned champions.
In 1987, his Milton Academy (MA) team won the NFL National Sweepstakes and Randy was named Coach of the Year. His student won International Extemp. His Albuquerque Academy students won Oratory, Drama, and Duo. He also coached five National History Day students to win a paid trip to Greece. They performed Randy’s play, Agora-met’s Delight.
Teacher McCutcheon learned his philosophy from Thoreau, “Be not simply good. Be good for something.” Randy in retirement continues his life of teaching by tutoring needy kids.
— Compiled by James Copeland
B. J. Naegelin
Betty Jean Naegelin was always elegantly dressed and coiffed: the perfect first lady. But she was also a Texas woman: plain spoken, sometimes sharp, and fiercely loyal to her students and her friends.
At the Tulsa Nationals, a rival coach was critiquing one of her students. Politely, B. J. thanked the coach and tried to shepherd her student away. But the coach would not take the hint. She wished to impart more of her opinions to the trapped student. “Back off, Missy,” stated B. J. “This is our kid!”
B. J. also believed a wife should “stand by your man.” At the Glenbrook Nationals, a coach standing near B. J. declared there had been a tabulation error. “That is terrible,” B. J. blurted. “Yes,” said the coach, “it was in supplemental tab” (the event B. J.’s husband Lanny Naegelin was tabbing). “Well, mistakes do happen,” was Mrs. Naegelin’s response. There was no error, and to B. J., Lanny could do no wrong.
Years later, aging and ill, B. J. flew to Washington to attend the funeral of James Unger. Her family warned against such a difficult trip, but B. J.’s response was firm: “I’m going! He was our friend.”
B. J. remained active in forensics after Lanny’s death, often attending tournaments. She was honored at President Billy Tate’s Southern Bell Forum and at Nationals. At institutes and tournaments, she often hosted a forensic salon for coaches. New plays were critiqued, Oratory topics were discussed, and new coaching methods analyzed. Fine dining and good conversation were always present. B. J. was deeply respected by her peers, who elected her to the Hall of Fame in 2001.
B. J. Naegelin’s passion was the theater. She was an ardent playgoer and often saw two shows a day on trips to New York. When Lanny directed a show, B. J. was the influential yet uncredited co-director. Lanny trusted her opinions. Few coaches had her extensive knowledge of Broadway plays.
The co-captain of Team Naegelin died in 2012. The Gentle Giant and his Lady were reunited: Team Naegelin, together, at last and forever.
To read more about L. D. Naegelin, click here.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Bro. George Zehnle, SM
Brother George worked summers as a master carpenter. His wages supported his order, Society of Mary, and his school, Chaminade, where Brother George was teacher of English and director of the Robert C. Wright speech and debate program, for over four decades.
Brother Zehnle was a major figure in American forensics. He served as National President of the National Catholic Forensic League, and 21 years as district chair of the New York City NFL District, winning two Gold Awards. Brother enjoyed being an official at NFL Nationals and the NCFL Grand Tournament. “I am always impressed by the ability of the speakers and debaters,” he said. “They are truly national champions.”
He earned seven diamonds during his great career. Brother George was a friendly and voluble man, willing to forcefully debate about ideas. His personality endeared him to students and colleagues alike and made him a most successful forensic coach in one of the nation’s most competitive areas.
In 16 different years a Chaminade student was NFL point leader in New York City. Brother’s squad won four Leading Chapter Awards, a District Sweepstakes Plaque, and four District Tournament Trophies. Brother Zehnle coached six Champions at the NCFL Grand Tournament. He also coached 21 New York State Tournament Champions. Coach Zehnle qualified almost 100 students to the NFL National Tournament. They were especially successful in Legislative Debate. Their student legislators were awarded the Senator Karl E. Mundt National Congress Trophy in 1992. Brother’s student finished runner-up in the Super House in 1999. Chaminade students also finished second in Humorous and fifth in Dramatic.
The great New York attorney Louis Nizer defined Brother George Zehnle when he said, “A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands, and his brain, and his heart is an artist.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Bob Brittain was a true gentleman, a fine teacher, and a tireless servant of his profession. While coaching at Columbia City High School, he served 24 consecutive terms as chair of the Northwest Indiana District. During those years, he was presented both a Silver Award and three Gold Awards for his service as chair; the Distinguished Service Key and Plaque for his service to the League on committees and in tab rooms; and as a final accolade, the Ralph E. Carey Award for Distinguished Career Service in 2009!
Bob was an excellent coach and conducted a quality program for more than 30 years. Columbia City High School won three Leading Chapter Awards, was twice the largest Chapter in Indiana, and twice celebrated the NFL leading point student in the state. Coach Brittain earned four diamonds. At the district tournament, Bob’s squad won the Sweepstakes Plaque once and the Trophy four times. Mr. Brittain qualified 49 students to the National Speech & Debate Tournament, including 13 debate teams and nine National Congress delegates. Bob coached a double qualifier, Dave Richison, to the National semifinals in Lincoln-Douglas Debate and a second place in Boys’ Extemporaneous Speaking. Columbia City won the National Student Congress Trophy in 1975. Robert Brittain was elected to the Indiana Speech Coaches Hall of Fame as well as the NFL Hall.
Bob earned many honors during his lengthy career, but his greatest honor was the trust of his colleagues to conduct the district and its tournament with fairness and competence year after year. No greater honor could have been earned. In 2016, the citizens of Columbia City voted to build a new high school. The school that Bob attended as a student, and later coached and taught in for more than 30 years, had been obsolete for years and finally was being replaced. At the ceremony celebrating the new high school, the Director of the Community Foundation, September McConnell, said, “Somewhere, Bob Brittain is smiling.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
I did not know Ms. Conger, but Hall of Fame coach David Johnson did and recalls: “Maybelle Conger taught in the basement of Central [Oklahoma City Central High School] for 44 years. Most people found that appropriate, assuming the school was built around her… I mean nothing negative about the term ‘warhorse.’ A fight with Maybelle was a fight to the death. Central was a powerful school, and Maybelle was a legend.” Oklahoma debate in those years was a man’s game. H. B. Mitchell and “Pop” Grady each coached multiple national champions, but Ms. Conger more than held her own.
Her record at Nationals was stunning: a national debate champion in 1932; a national Oratorical Declamation champion in 1935; a national Oratory champion in 1936; a national Humorous Declamation champion in 1940; a national Dramatic declamation champion in 1941; the National Trophy (now the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob Trophy) in 1949; a national debate semifinalist in 1955; and eight other finalists. She also taught and mentored Hall of Fame coach Charline Burton, who would mirror Maybelle’s record with a semifinalist debate team, a champion in Extemporaneous speaking, and a National Trophy. Maybelle’s students endowed a scholarship in her name at Oklahoma City University.
One could only imagine how difficult it must have been for a woman to be a debate and speech coach in 1930s and 1940s Oklahoma. It was a hotbed of forensic activity and the most successful state at the National Tournament. High school education was male- dominated and so was competitive speech. Yet Maybelle set the competitive standard for success at Nationals.
According to the Winter 1966-1967 Oklahoma Today, Ms. Conger also had a hobby. She collected more than 200 hundred toy skunks. One wonders if she named any after her competitor coaches!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Founder Bruno Jacob believed that the most important honor to be earned in the NFL was not a national championship, but membership. Bruno’s words were put into action by John Hires, coach at Downers Grove South High School. With his Hall of Fame coaching partner Jan Heiteen, their chapter was famous for getting young people involved in speech activities—lots of young people. Downers Grove South led Illinois as Largest Chapter in Enrollments (most new members) and as a national top ten school. Downers Grove South was the Largest Chapter in Illinois during 29 years; for 31 years, the school led the state in new members; and the chapter placed on the National Top Ten lists 21 times: largest chapter, new member enrollment, or both (nine times in first place). Individual students also achieved honors—six times leading the district in NFL points, two in the National Top Ten, including one in second place. The program won four Leading Chapter Awards.
Large participation programs usually have less competitive success than star system programs. John’s wife Diana said, “He was not interested in the star, he was interested in the student.” But Hires’ program enjoyed great success. At the district tournament the squad won 14 Sweepstakes Plaques and four District Trophies. John Hires qualified 108 students to the National Tournament and placed 12 finalists, including a second in Prose and two runners-up in LD (Andrew Jacobs in back-to-back years).
John directed more than 200 shows in his career. He preferred comedies, but directed dramas and musicals as well. His squad dominated the Illinois state speech tournament, winning seven times and always finishing in one of the top three places. It was sad that John did not live to see his daughter Kelly make the semifinals in Dramatic Interpretation at the 2004 National finals. She was coached by John’s co-coach, Jan Heiteen, who continued the great Downers Grove South traditions.
— Compiled by James Copeland
William "Billy" Woods Tate, Jr.
William Woods Tate, Jr., was a Southern gentleman: impressive, courtly, and smart. He played tournament bridge and could visualize the place of every card; he was politically savvy and held high office at his college, in his fraternity, and in the NFL/NSDA; he could call from memory the name of every person he met; and details of every Alabama football game he had seen.
Billy lived large. His delight was food. Many thought he was a gourmand. Not so! Billy was a gourmet in the classic sense. Whether enjoying fried vegetables at a tiny restaurant in Alabama, or tucking in at a five-star restaurant, Billy knew great taste! His hobby was antiques, especially brilliantine glass from the turn of the last century. His collection was one of America’s finest.
Billy’s sport was Alabama football. He intensely followed every game: exultant in victory;
depressed in defeat. Coach Tate’s passion was winning: in football, in politics, in debate.
On the national circuit, his team won the Glenbrooks and made late rounds at the TOC and the Barkley Forum. Tate hosted the Southern Bell Forum, a circuit event of unequaled hospitality.
At Nationals, his Montgomery Bell Academy Policy Debate team finished second in 1999. In 2005, MBA was the first team in history to close out the NFL Policy Debate final round!
The MBA program was hugely successful: the largest Chapter in Tennessee eight times and three-time winner of the Leading Chapter Award. Tate was honored with five diamonds, the Distinguished Service Key and Plaque (Third Honors), a Barkley Forum Key, a TOC Hall of Fame Induction, and the Pelham commendation.
Billy Tate and the Tennessee District hosted the elegant Nashville National Tournament in 1988. As NFL president, Billy served longer than any other president except Senator Karl Mundt. His presidential initiatives included the formation of the National Junior Forensic League, recruitment of new sponsors, and selection of National Tournament sites. He was immensely popular with students and coaches alike.
Hosting a District Congress in 2013, Billy’s great heart stopped. The NSDA will never again meet such a man.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Two great passions guided the life of Kenneth Thames: church and debate. Ken was the youngest elder in his Lutheran Church and a lifetime student of the Holy Bible. He began his debate career as a college debater for the fine coach Ruth McGaffey at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Ken’s coaching career began at Homestead High School (WI), where his team won the state championship. In 1973, he joined the staff at Marquette University High School, where his debate teams won three Wisconsin state CX debate championships and four NFL National Sweepstakes championships. Later, he would teach and coach at DeLong Middle School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. There, his ninth-grade students would win the Wisconsin high school state standard debate (four-person) championship—a remarkable feat achieved not once, but twice!
In 1985, Mr. Thames assisted his two good friends and colleagues, Hall of Fame member Art McMillion and his wife Ruth Laws McMillion, to host the NFL (now NSDA) National Tournament at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For many years, Ken assisted Hall of Fame coach Ron Steinhorst running the WSCA speech tournament.
Tragedy twice entered Ken’s life: when he was badly injured in an auto collision on a snowy Minnesota highway, causing a life of severe back pain; and when his daughter, a champion diver, had her Olympic dreams ended by a staph infection, caused by broken glass.
Thames was a superb tournament director who initially computerized the judge assignment system and the student pairing process at the National Tournament. His programming was vital for the expansion and efficient management of the tournament. For years, Hall of Fame members James Hawker, Marilyn Hageman, and Carol Zanto had worked all night to hand assign judges.
Kenneth Thames was a man who loved his Lord, loved coaching debate, and loved serving his community. He is missed by everyone who worked with him or knew him.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Lawrence "Larry" Brown
A telephone rings in Alabama, answered by Pat Bailey, who says, “Bear line.” NSDA Board President Billy Tate responds, “Bear line.” And the two friends from University of Alabama days began their weekly conversation about Alabama football, named after legendary coach Bear Bryant. The two champion Hall of Fame debate coaches had much in common with their idol. Bryant often said, “It is not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes a difference.” The students coached by Patricia Bailey and the late Billy Tate had the Bryant hallmark of through preparation.
Patricia “Pat” Bailey, coach at Homewood High School (AL), achieved excellence coaching students who succeeded statewide and nationally: a Lincoln-Douglas Debate national champion, who made the late rounds in two other years; a national runner-up in Prose/Poetry; and students who placed or won at the Barkley Forum and the Southern Bell Forum.
In Alabama, Homewood placed often in the district tournament, winning three yearly Sweepstakes Plaques and two District Cumulative Trophies. In the Alabama state finals, Coach Bailey’s team scored multiple winners and several team sweepstakes crowns. Pat’s squad also achieved chapter excellence: NSDA student point leader in nine different years, twice placing in the national top ten, including a runner-up nationally; and earning three Leading Chapter Awards. Pat coached more than 30 entries to the National Tournament, some students qualifying in two events and/or in multiple years. Her Lincoln-Douglas squad was one of the nation’s most successful! Pat’s successes include a double diamond key and a Barkley Forum Key.
Pat Bailey served her profession well. She was chosen Deep South District chair seven years, winning the Gold Award, and she was selected as a member of the national Lincoln-Douglas Wording Committee. She also hosted the Homewood Invitational, the largest tournament in Alabama.
Personable, hardworking, competent, successful. Patricia Bailey is one of our best.
— Compiled by James Copeland
The eleventh President of the NFL/NSDA, and one of our best, Don Crabtree has used his calm manner and consensus building skills to guide his fellow councilors and NSDA members through a time of change and expansion. Earlier Don demonstrated his considerable talent by hosting three National Tournaments, in three different decades, and two different centuries: 1983, 1994, and 2010. Each Kansas City tournament was meticulously planned, beautifully conducted, and FUN!
Crabtree began his four-decade career at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph, MO and later taught at Park Hill, where he coached a large squad. His chapter was regularly the largest in the district and often among the nation’s top ten, twice second. He qualified more than 70 students to the National Tournament. Coaching the national champion in Dramatic Interpretation in 1986 is one of Don’s most exhilarating memories. Another great memory was achieving the Ninth Diamond key. This honor confirmed Mr. Crabtree’s excellence and commitment to coaching and teaching.
In 2007, Don was presented the rare Ralph E. Carey Trophy for Distinguished Career Service. In Missouri, Don was named Outstanding Teacher by the Speech and Theater Association and presented the Distinguished Service Award by the High School Activities Association. Nationally, he received the National Federation Award for Career Service and from the NSDA, his 15th Distinguished Service Key—a record! Earlier his work as district chair earned the gold award.
Don Crabtree is an expert teacher of interpretation and has written articles on selection of material and the cutting of texts. He strongly believes that cutting an author’s text is like cutting human tissue and must be done with precision and care, always honoring the author’s intent. The Crabtree coaching style is: “Love the activity… Love the kids… Have fun….” The Crabtree Presidential style is: Appreciate the wonderful honor of being chosen to serve!
— Compiled by James Copeland. To learn more about Don’s legacy, read the article written by Annie Reisener, published in the April/May 2018 issue of Rostrum magazine.
Mary Donna Ross
Known nationwide for her large collection of elegant hats, the remarkable talents of this woman spring from the mind under the hat. According to Donna, “The most valuable thing I’ve learned in life is that one must use one’s brain in order to follow one’s heart.”
Mary Donna Ross is an exceptional teacher, successful coach, polished platform performer, and published author. She cohosted the wonderful 1998 Gateway Nationals in St. Louis, as well as co-founded both the Ozark and Eastern Missouri NFL Districts. A member of the Speech and Theater Association of Missouri Hall of Fame, STAM also honored her as Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Her coaching philosophy was simple and effective: coax the best out of everyone. Her mantra for students was work hard, overcome fear, and communicate well. The students responded: four times in ten years, the team was Missouri Mock Trial Champion and placed third in the NFL National Congress Sweepstakes.
She loved individual winners, but her main focus was always the team. Mary Donna and the team starred in her most unusual memory. On a bus to a tournament, the driver pulled to the side of the road, called a wrecker, and then departed with the disabled bus. Coach and kids were abandoned; no tournament clothes, no debate evidence, and no transport! But troopers all, they arrived late, performed from the heart, and even won a few trophies.
Mary Donna is very literary. She has appeared on stage, in full period costume, to interpret words written by female authors. Her recent endeavor is as an author of historical whodunits! Jack the Ripper in St. Louis appeared in 2014, followed in 2016 by Mayhem at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The second book celebrates the real 1898 performance of the biggest show ever staged.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Ohio; New York
Greg Varley loves a challenge! He began his career at Tallmadge High School in Ohio, a state where two national champion debate coaches, Esther Kalmbach and Phyllis Barton, were active. He then accepted a position at Lakeland High School in New York, a state where two other national champion debate coaches, Richard Sodikow and Ted Belch, coached!
Not to worry. Greg was one America’s finest Policy Debate coaches. His record proves that. As Greg himself put it, “Lakeland teams (and before them Tallmadge teams) were always prepared.” Prepared, well-traveled, and successful, they qualified for late elimination rounds in major national circuit events: Bronx Science, The Glenbrooks, Barkley Forum, and the TOC were only a few of the stops for the Lakeland squad.
Winning Policy Debate at NCFL was a thrill. Losing a close semifinal round at Nationals was bittersweet. Greg also coached varsity Policy Debate teams to multiple New York state championships. But Coach Varley was most pleased by the success of his younger teams at state. “It was the success in novice and junior varsity that suggested balance in the program and the quality of the efforts of varsity debaters in preparing younger debaters for both the state tournament and to preserve the legacy of Lakeland debate.”
Greg Varley was more than a coach of winning debaters. He was Social Studies Department Chair and primarily an educator. “Every student has the potential to succeed,” says Greg, “and that success is not always measured in trophies or championships. Growth as debaters, as students, and as citizens of the world, with motivation, training, and opportunity, can improve the future for all of us.”
Greg helped create the New York State Coaches Association and was elected by his peers to its Hall of Fame. “Coaching debate made worthwhile the 44 years I spent in education,” remembers Greg. “Despite successes in many other areas of education, the connection to motivated students, and extraordinary coaching colleagues across the country, validated my career.” Well said. Well done.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Ted W. Belch
Ted W. Belch is the most successful high school Policy Debate coach of all time. His teams have eclipsed records that had survived for decades: a record five NCFL debate championships won by teams coached by the charismatic John Sexton; a record six NFL debate finalists (three winners and three runners-up) coached by the legendary H. B. Mitchell; and a record three NFL debate champion teams in five years, coached by the competitive C. E. “Pop” Grady.
Ted’s teams have won the “Double Header” (NFL and NCFL the same year) and the “Triple Crown” (NFL, NCFL, and TOC the same year). He has coached six Tournament of Champions (TOC) winners from three different schools, and his teams have won every major invitational at least once.
An outstanding tournament director and thoughtful NFL Councilor, Ted’s forte was always coaching. He coached debate at four schools: High Point Andrews, NC, the first public school to win NCFL (1972); Walter Panas, NY, 1978 NCFL winner; Glenbrook South, IL, second at NFL in 1996, winner in 1981; and Glenbrook North, IL, five NFL debate champions, including the 1999, 2000, 2001 three-peat and NCFL winners five times, including the 2002 final round close-out. Add to all that, three NFL top speakers and eight state champions in his final nine years as coach.
Other Hall of Fame coaches have achieved notable debate success. “Billy” Tate (TN) coached the only teams to close out the NFL Policy final round; a Cat Bennett (NM) team closed out Lincoln-Douglas; Tim Averill’s Manchester (MA) squad closed out Public Forum in 2006 after winning Policy in 1987. Aaron Timmons has coached multiple champions in Policy and Lincoln-Douglas Debate. But as we approach our centennial, there can be no doubt that Ted Belch set a standard for Policy Debate coaching at multiple schools, in multiple decades, and in multiple tournaments. Shakespeare said it best, “When comes such another?”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Sr. Isabella Glenn
At the remarkable age of 101, Sister Isabella (Alice) Glenn, SC, beloved member of the Sisters of Charity, was given a Mass of Christian burial on December 21, 2005, in the Chapel of the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity in St. Joseph, Ohio.
Her life began on February 2, 1904. Her father, a miner, died before Alice’s birth. At age 16, her single mother sent her to live with relatives in Denver, where “a whole fleet of angels” led her to Cathedral High School. Alice debated in a time when debaters competed in only one, single elimination round.
She lost, but her love for debate never flagged. Upon graduation, she entered the Sisters of Charity and began teaching. For 77 years she taught, or was principal, in Catholic schools in Ohio, New Mexico, and Colorado. Sister Isabella came to Trinidad Catholic High School in 1974.
She taught drama, English, Latin, and speech, and established the debate and speech team, and continued coaching after becoming principal in 1996. Sister Isabella said the best years of her life were “when I was teaching speech at Trinidad Catholic. I just loved my kids… You get to know them when you travel on speech trips… It’s the love you remember.”
Sister Isabella had a fine record of educational and competitive success. More than 25 percent of the Trinidad Catholic student body participated in her program, which received a Leading Chapter Award. During her career she coached state champions in Debate and Oratory, and qualified students to the National Catholic Grand Tournament and the National Speech Tournament.
Sister Isabella earned her NFL diamond key and the Colorado High School Activity Association’s highest speech award, the Sharon Wilch Lifetime Achievement Award. But her greatest reward was the love she received from her students. One troubled student, now a lawyer, wrote to her: “Sister, you were not prepared to let me fail. You offered me a chance to debate…” Sister Isabella loved teaching, loved debate, and loved her “kids.” And everyone loved Sister Isabella!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Role models are critical for the growth of individuals and professions. The NSDA Hall of Fame has no finer role model than Richard Rice. His passion for teaching and love for students, his hard work and dedication, his empathy and fairness, are widely recognized.
Now a superintendent, this fine Christian gentleman spent two decades building programs, both numerically and competitively, first at Marshall High School and later at Oak Park High School, both near Kansas City.
His Oak Park squad won three Leading Chapter Awards, was largest district chapter five times, led the district in new members thrice, and had six district high point students. Coach Rice’s teams won six district tournament Plaques and three Trophies. Richard coached all events and qualified students to the Missouri state tournament in every event, winning numerous firsts. He was named Outstanding Teacher by the Missouri Speech and Theater Association.
A five-diamond coach, Mr. Rice qualified more than 70 students to Nationals, including two finalists in Humorous Interpretation. He was awarded the district chair Gold Award twice and the NFL Distinguished Service Key and Plaque. Richard co-hosted the 1983 Kansas City Nationals.
Coach Rice’s philosophy, based on individual differences, is worthy of serious thought: “I believe all students can be successful in speech and debate, just not in the same way or in the same time frame.” Richard experienced many exhilarating moments, “It was exciting to see students who lacked confidence and thought they could not do speech or debate, excel over time.”
“Stepping down as debate coach to become a school administrator” was his most disappointing experience. “Leaving my students was heart wrenching! I loved teaching and the students that I had…” testifies Richard. “I truly believe that teaching was a calling. I learned more from my students in 20 tears than I could have ever taught them.”
Richard Rice—an educator and a role model, from whom we all may learn.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Few successful, competitive coaches are beloved by students and colleagues alike. Emerson Turner, coach at several Houston schools, was one. A short man with a high chirpy voice and a wide smile, Emerson was a University of Houston debater. At that time, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) was offering a competitive debate program in the junior high schools. Emerson took one of these coaching jobs upon graduation. Soon Emerson moved up to Jesse Jones High School. Then he moved to Lamar High School, the most elite high school in Texas, where in 1973 he coached the first debate champion team in the new Texas Forensic Association (TFA). He would also coach a UIL Debate Champion.
At the 1969 Nationals, he coached a semifinal debate team, and his squad won both the Tau Kappa Alpha (now the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob) Trophy and the Congress Sweepstakes (now the Karl E. Mundt) Trophy.
Lamar should have been National Sweepstakes Champion, and Emerson would have been Coach of the Year, but for a protest over the selection of the Lamar entry in Drama. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds was judged unpublished, despite the fact the play had been performed as early as 1964 and copies of the play were distributed to Houston coaches. The NFL Council failed to discern that legally “published” means “available to the public,” not printed.
Mr. Turner served NFL as district chair, National tab room director, and National Tournament assistant director. He was a founding member of TFA. He earned two diamonds.
Emerson was kidded that small men loved large cars. Although he owned a Corvette, his favorite was the Oldsmobile ’98. At his last teaching job, Clear Lake High School, he drove the bus to tournaments. With a wide grin, he would jump from the bus and proclaim the bus was “better than an Olds ’98!”
Emerson also loved boats and loved to chase waterspouts on Galveston Bay, where he lived in a large house. His friend, David Johnson relates, “He approached chasing the water borne tornadoes as he approached his life: full speed ahead!” His ashes are scattered on his beloved Galveston Bay.
— Compiled by James Copeland
C. E. "Pop" Grady
C. E. “Pop” Grady, coach at Oklahoma City-Classen High School, was described as a wiry little man. Some might call him a martinet; he brooked no argument over his decisions. Grady told one reporter, “I can’t recall a time I regretted my decision, when I took a stand.” His students respected and liked him.
He first taught at two small town Texas schools, then moved to Classen. He started an NFL Chapter in 1934. Between then and 1947, Grady produced outstanding results at Nationals: three champions in Debate; three champions and two seconds in Extemporaneous Speaking; two runners-up in Original Oratory; two champions in Oratorical Declamation; a champion and a second in Dramatic; a champion in Humorous; a champion and runner-up in Poetry; nine other finalists and the National Trophy (now the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob Trophy). The Classen Chapter was eight times largest in the State and earned a Leading Chapter Award.
Grady asked Bruno Jacob if he could host the 1936 Nationals. That Nationals featured a long-forgotten controversy: a single African American student, Caleb Thompson of Peekskill High School (NY), qualified in Dramatic. At that time, education was segregated in Oklahoma and “separate but equal” was the law. Grady decreed that Thompson’s speeches would be delivered and judged at Douglas, the African American high school, and not at Classen. Grady told reporters, “I was born in Indiana and don’t believe in the way things are done down South… I am afraid something awful will happen, if this colored boy speaks with white students… I am trying to protect him.” A local African American editor appealed to the tournament committee, stating the student would withdraw rather than be segregated. The “committee,” probably Grady and Bruno Jacob, relented. Thompson spoke at Classen and won Dramatic Declamation!
“Pop” retired in 1947. A popular figure, he was elected County School Superintendent. Grady, the most successful coach of his time, is now forgotten. His Hall of Fame plaque resides alone in the national office. No relative could be found to claim it.
— Compiled by James Copeland
R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Aretha Franklin demanded it in her famous song; Shirley Keller-Firestone earned it during her stellar career, coaching students at Lynbrook High School, service to the California High School Speech Association (CHSSA); and work at the National Tournament.
Ms. Keller founded the Lynbrook speech program in 1966 and established their NFL Chapter in 1967. She, her loving husband Jerry, and the kids were like a family. Their proudest moment was in 1995 when one student won first place at state and another was outstanding representative in the National Student Congress! In other years, Shirley’s squad also posted a fine record: 14 qualifiers to the National Student Congress, including a third place in the Senate and three presiding officers; 33 students to the National Tournament, including 14 extempers, four orators, two LD debaters, three Policy teams, and four Public Forum teams, one placing third in 2003.
One disappointing year, Lynbrook placed first alternate in every event, but sent no one to Nationals. Lynbrook won six Leading Chapter Awards, was their district’s Largest Chapter three years, and six years placed in the nation’s top ten chapters.
Shirley’s philosophy of coaching? “I always asked my students to do the best they could and when they did, I was happy. I tried to get students to do their own research and help them achieve their dreams of success. My most exhilarating moments have been when students come back and say I made a difference in their lives. Some have given me credit for their success.”
Ms. Keller-Firestone served 20 years as NFL district chair, winning four Gold Awards. She and her husband Jerry rendered tireless volunteer service each year at the National Tournament.
Now retired, Shirley volunteers as an assistant coach. Even though she no longer is a full time head coach, her reputation for fairness and competence is so well established, she was chosen as CHSSA Area I chair by her fellow coaches. That is R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
— Compiled by James Copeland
In the Hawaiian language, “Aloha” may mean “affection.” Every year at the National Tournament, Hawaii’s district chair Karen Miyakado and the coaches from Hawaii continue to bring affection from their islands, beautiful and fragrant leis, to bestow upon winners of each tournament event. The lei is a garland, usually of flowers, which according to Hawaii custom, is presented as a gift celebrating honor and friendship. Presentation of these leis at Nationals is a tradition dating back to Bruno Jacob’s time, and is a popular feature at the awards assembly.
Karen Miyakado has served 27 terms and counting as Hawaii chair, winning three Gold and two Silver Awards. For decades, she served as a speech event tabulator at the National Tournament. Ms. Miyakado was awarded the Ralph E. Carey Trophy for Distinguished Career Service in 2008.
Coaching at Honolulu Radford High School, Karen compiled a superior coaching record, winning three Leading Chapter Awards and three District Trophies. She earned two diamonds. As coach at Radford, Karen first brought students to the National Tournament in 1979, and qualified students every year until her retirement in 2001. Thirty-four Radford students qualified for Nationals. She also coached many Hawaii state champion speakers.
Karen resumed coaching at Iolani School in 2008 with her friend Joey Miyamoto and with Michael Tanoue, a Baldwin debater she took to Nationals on her first trip in 1979. The three coach a powerhouse team, qualifying 45 students to Nationals from 2008 to 2016 and winning three sweepstakes plaques and one District Trophy.
Even in retirement, Karen still likes being part of forensics. “I guess you enjoy the little things, seeing them compete and the excitement, seeing them work so hard. It’s the spirit of competition.” Since Karen lives on O’ahu, we see her only once a year. But at Nationals, we express our affection for Karen and the Hawaiians with joyful “Alohas”!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Board President Frank Sferra often called him the “Grandfather of Debate,” but Lowell Sharp meant much more than that to NFL. Perhaps he was the “Godfather of Debate”; he used his persuasive skills to host the outstanding 1989 Colorado School of Mines Nationals. Certainly, he is the “Dutch Uncle of LD Debate”; as LD topic wording committee chair, his organizational skills created transparency and participation. Absolutely “Father” of Rocky Mountain NFL; Lowell served an amazing 35 years as district chair, and oversaw the splitting of the Rocky Mountain District.
As chair of Rocky Mountain and later Rocky Mountain South, he earned four Gold Awards. In 1995, he was presented the Ralph E. Carey Trophy for Distinguished Career Service. In 40 years of teaching and coaching at Golden High School, his program was the district’s Largest Chapter 15 times, and in 14 different years led the district in new members. Golden received five Leading Chapter Awards. Lowell’s teams compiled a fine district tournament record winning four cumulative Sweepstakes Trophies and two yearly Sweepstakes Plaques. Forty-one students qualified for the National Tournament and 25 were elected to the National Student Congress.
The Sharp family share nine NFL diamonds. Lowell has five, three for daughter Tammi Peters, one for wife Becky, a tireless worker at the National Tournament for many years. Lowell Sharp is one of the most powerful speakers in the Hall of Fame. His speech at his induction to the Colorado Activities Association Hall of Fame was brimming with emotion. His eulogy at the funeral of his great friend, Frank Sferra, was deeply moving. After serious illness, Lowell returned to the 2016 Utah Nationals, helping the Golden debaters between rounds of the new Extemporaneous Debate event. From Policy to Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum, and now Extemporaneous Debate. The “Grandfather of Debate” has coached them all!
— Compiled by Jim Copeland
Larry L. Smith
Question: Which Hall of Fame Coach was an Eagle Scout, an accomplished balloonist, a union stagehand, and the coach of a national champion orator? Answer: Larry Smith of Fresno-Hoover High School.
A teacher of the year in the Fresno District, Larry claims he enjoyed 28 years of coaching forensics—and suffered 28 years of people who misunderstood our definition of “forensics” and “NFL”!
Mr. Smith served as area chairman, vice president for activities, president and treasurer of the California High School Speech Association, and is a member of the CHSSA Hall of Fame.
Larry conducted a small but successful team. For 28 years, Hoover qualified for the California state tournament every year and the National Tournament 17 times. Several students made semifinal or final rounds and one, Lawrence Artenian, won first place, with perhaps the most iconic oration in NFL history, “Red, White, and Blue, Number Two.” Larry also coached a California Lincoln-Douglas champion.
His greatest disappointment occurred when Hoover placed second in Debate, Boys’ Extemp, Girls’ Extemp, and Oratory at the 1976 District Qualifier; NFL rules allowed only the winners to qualify!
Coach Smith says,” I was a teacher first and a coach second. I firmly believed that forensic competition was the best experience students could have… to prepare them for college and life… Winning plastic trophies was just a secondary pleasure.”
District chair 15 years, Larry won two Gold Awards. He earned three diamonds. Hoover won two Leading Chapter Awards, four District Sweepstakes Plaques, and three District Trophies. Larry’s critique of each of 40 NFL instructional videos was a great service to coaches nationwide.
For many years Larry and his fellow coach, Bob Jones, were balloonists. Bob floated the balloon and Larry was the chaser, tracking the balloon to its destination. Upon landing in a farm field, Smith and Jones would offer a glass of champagne to the startled farmer and toast the trip.
Larry, now retired, is living the sweet life in the beautiful California fig country. Good show!
— Compiled by James Copeland
What creates successful speakers? A large, well-run program! What creates competitive teams? A rivalry with other successful teams! Helen Engstrom, coach at Munster High School, built a large program and winning teams by competing against Indiana’s outstanding teams.
Helen began in 1965 with 13 students and herself. Munster now involves more than 200 students and a staff of excellent coaches. Coach Engstrom’s philosophy: “I wanted to give the most students the opportunity to benefit from the experience of being part of a successful speech and debate program. This afforded them the opportunity to develop marketable communication skills that would serve in their lifetimes.”
Helen’s motto: “You win with class, you lose with class.” Munster twice won the premier honor at the National Tournament, the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob Trophy, emblematic of National Tournament success over decades of competition. Helen’s squad placed four times in the top ten schools for the yearly Sweepstakes Award, and won several School of Excellence Awards.
Munster also won Indiana state team championships and dominated the Northwest Indiana district tournament each year, often qualifying ten or more contestants. Helen coached 27 students to the National Congress and 306 to the National Tournament, including 15 finalists and a champion in Poetry Reading.
Helen’s program led their district ten years in new members and was five times the Largest Chapter. Munster won six Leading Chapter Awards. Helen was awarded five diamonds.
Ms. Engstrom was elected to the Indiana Coaches Hall of Fame and won an Outstanding Coaching Award from the National Federation. Who would have predicted that a small program of just 13 students would grow into one of the largest and most successful squads in the nation? Helen did, and she knew how to build it.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Dr. Richard Hunsaker
Bio coming soon!
Edwin Kelly, one of the most popular speech and debate teachers in America, coached at Pennsbury High School (PA) and Pinecrest School (FL). Ed was a very humorous guy. He always knew all the latest gossip, but no one ever was mad at him. They all wanted him to tell them what he had heard. Ed enjoyed a convivial group of Pennsylvania friends: among them were Hall of Fame coaches Glen Cavanaugh, Peggy Madden, and NCFL National Secretary Mike Nailor. These Pennsylvanians and others conducted the Impromptu contest at Nationals. Ed was also popular on the national circuit. He and Hall of Fame Coach Brother Sterner founded the Valley Forge District. One of the longest serving district chairs, Ed was elected to 17 consecutive terms, winning two Gold Awards.
A three-diamond coach, Coach Kelly ran a large chapter in a suburb of Philadelphia. His Pennsbury squad was twice the largest in the Valley Forge District and five times led the district in new members. A Pennsbury student five times led the district in NFL points, including James Poterba, who was first in the nation. Pennsbury won four Leading Chapter Awards.
At the Valley Forge district tournament, Ed’s debate teams won six times and his squad won both the district Sweepstakes Plaque and the cumulative Trophy. Kelly also coached winners in the Pennsylvania High School Speech League.
Ed qualified 11 Policy Debate teams and more than 30 speakers to the National Tournament. Fifteen students were elected to the National Congress. Kelly’s squad finished third in the Sweepstakes in 1976. Coach Kelly reached the pinnacle when his debate team of James Poterba and Steven Meagher won the 1976 Policy Debate championship at the Air Force Academy Nationals in Colorado. Poterba also placed first in Boys’ Extemporaneous Speaking— a rare double win, accomplished by very few.
Mr. Kelly was quite ill late in his career. He retired to Florida, but regained his strength and did some coaching at Pinecrest School in Fort Lauderdale. Ed is now gone, but he is still missed.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Richard B. Sodikow
Often called “Mr. Debate,” Richard Sodikow was a Shakespearean scholar who spoke several languages. His many accomplishments include a Barkley Forum Key; a rare seventh NFL diamond; two district chair Gold Awards; head of delegation at the World Debate Tournament; election to the NFL Executive Council; and the NDCA Lifetime Achievement Award.
“All the world’s a stage,” wrote The Oxford Man, “and all the men and women merely players…” Richard stood center stage in his life, surrounded by a loving supporting cast: Robert Levinson, his “aide de camp”; Ann Shapiro, his companion; Kirby Chin, his adviser; and Brother John McGrory, who chronicled Richard’s life in double dactyl verse. The chorus was a group of friends and foils who kept Richard aggravated and amused. To the entire cast, he dispensed wit and wisdom.
Mr. Sodikow was trained as a scientist, but his passion was the English language, so he became its teacher at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. As a debate coach, Richard found his true metier. Bronx Science debaters reached the national final Policy round in 1983. A Lincoln-Douglas debater won in 1991. The Bronx Science squad won the Bruno E. Jacob Trophy in 1992.
His teams won most major national circuit invitationals, some multiple times, including one notable achievement: four teams in the quarterfinals of the Barkley Forum. Richard coached the largest debate program in America and financed much of it with his own money. His chapter usually placed in the nation’s top ten. They won four Leading Chapter Awards. Each week multiple teams debated at two or three different tournaments. Richard cared about every one of them. He believed everything was debatable and every student had a right to debate. He lived to see the national final round of Policy Debate named in his honor. Richard acted as the National Tournament results auditor, and never erred. At his death, he provided a large bequest for continued support of NSDA debate.
Shakespeare’s words sum the life and works of “Mr. Debate”: “He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Wayne and Karla Brown made a huge contribution to debate and speech education by bringing video to the National Forensic League. Although audio tapes of final rounds of the National Tournament were offered as early as 1964, the first videotaped final rounds were recorded on reel-to-reel equipment at the 1973 Pittsburgh Nationals by local coach Gil Stoerer. At Huntsville in 1979, videos again were recorded, but not any interpretation events for fear of violating copyright laws. Dale Publishing, a debate handbook company owned by Wayne and Karla Brown, contracted to record the final rounds, market the tapes, and pay NFL a royalty. Dale Publishing was known for many years for their quality debate and speech publications and video productions.
Wayne coached at Center High School in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO. He was a kindly, well-liked man, who served as Missouri chair when the state of Missouri was one NFL district. Contentious Missouri coaches were calmed by Wayne’s competence and integrity as he conducted the large district debate event, which at that time would qualify only a single team to Nationals.
Wayne’s team at Center won the Leading Chapter Award and three different years produced the district high point student. The Center squad twice won the Tournament Sweepstakes Plaque and the District Trophy three times. Mr. Brown earned four diamonds. Wayne coached three state champion debate teams. Center qualified 11 Policy Debate teams to Nationals, as well as eight individual speakers and six delegates to the National Congress.
After Wayne’s tragic death, his wife Karla, a former middle school language teacher and administrator, continued Dale Publishing and the videotaping of final rounds and the awards assembly. Later, Hall of Fame member Mark Ferguson would expand the use of video in the NSDA. But it was Karla and Wayne who had the vision to combine debate, speech, and video when the technology was new.
— Compiled by James Copeland
A. C. Eley
Kansas has always been a hotbed of Policy Debate, even though the State Activities Association allows debate only in the Fall semester. The Kansas 6A tournament in Policy is arguably the toughest in the nation. One of the most successful and beloved coaches in the Kansas Hall of Fame and NFL Hall of Fame was A. C. “Ace” Eley, six-diamond coach at Shawnee Mission-North High School. Eley became head debate coach in 1972. His debate team won the Kansas state debate tournament twice and he coached three state champions in Extemporaneous speaking. A. C. qualified five Policy teams and one Lincoln-Douglas debater to the National Tournament. He qualified 20 individual speakers, including John Culver, 1983 national champion in Boys’ Extemp. Mr. Eley also coached a National runner-up in Impromptu Speaking and a third place in Student Congress (now Congressional Debate).
A. C.’s Shawnee Mission-North Chapter was always one of the largest in Kansas, winning the Leading Chapter Award thrice, and featuring the student NFL district point leader three times. Mr. Eley was known for his service. Ace chaired the Lincoln-Douglas Debate tabulation room at the National Tournament. He won the Gold Award for his three years of service as East Kansas district chair. A. C. was named Outstanding Teacher by the Kansas Speech Communication Association.
Eley was also celebrated for his generous philanthropy. He bequeathed funds to the Shawnee Mission Educational Foundation for the A. C. Eley Scholarship, awarded to a student who competed for three years in Debate and Extemporaneous Speaking. Mr. Eley also gifted $50,000 to the NFL to sponsor International Extemporaneous Speaking at the National Tournament. Mr. Eley, great coach and a great supporter, was our “Ace.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
“Sagamore of the Wabash” is a coveted award presented by the Governor of Indiana to those “who rendered great service to the state…” Hall of Fame members James Hawker and Larry “Papa H” Highbaugh are Sagamores. Bill Hicks also deserves this honor! Hicks served for more than 30 years as Executive Secretary of the Indiana High School Forensic Association. He was elected to the IHSFA Hall of Fame in 1983 and was named IHSFA Coach of the Year in 1993.
Bill served more than 30 years on the National Debate Topic Committee and was on the National Federation Speech Advisory Committee. His 1993-1994 report was selected as the debate topic area. In 2012, the NDSA awarded him the Brother Gregory “René” Sterner Lifetime Service Award.
Mr. Hicks began his teaching career at Howe Military Academy and later taught at Brebeuf, a Jesuit Prep School. He co-hosted two Indiana Nationals with his Hall of Fame brother Larry Highbaugh at Ben Davis High School. Since 1995, Bill has been National Tournament photographer.
His fine NFL/NSDA record includes 21 terms as district chair, three Gold Awards, one Silver Award, and the Distinguished Service Key and Plaque (Tenth Honors). Bill coached large programs at small schools. Howe was Largest Chapter in the district four times, winning the Leading Chapter Award twice. Brebeuf was the Largest Chapter in the district seven times, winning the Leading Chapter Award thrice. Ten times Hicks’ students led their district as high point leaders.
Brebeuf won the Indiana team speech championship in 2000 and in 2005 they won an NSDA School of Excellence Award. Bill coached a national champion in the Senate (1992) and a top presiding officer in the Senate (1998). Brebeuf won the Mundt Congress Sweepstakes in 2003. Coach Hicks’ book, Basic Debate, is in its fourth printing. He is our “Sagamore.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
“All the world’s a stage,” saith the Bard of Avon, “And all the men and women are merely players”—except Mr. Mattachione, who is a director. And a fabulous director is he. The Perry High School Board of Education rededicated the auditorium as the Louie Mattachione Theater in honor of decades of superior dramatic and musical productions directed by Louie. Mr. Mattachione also has been honored as a Charter Member of the Ohio High School Speech League Coaches Hall of Fame and named Outstanding Teacher by the OHSSL.
“Speak the speech, I pray you… trippingly on the tongue,” teaches The Oxford Man, and so does Louie! In 1973, at Louie’s first National Tournament, his student Mark Ferguson won the Dramatic Interpretation championship. (Mark later coached a national champion and, like his coach Louie, Mark is a member of the NDSA Hall of Fame.) Louie also coached four semifinalists in Humorous Interpretation and a seventh place in Duo Interpretation, and qualified more than 25 of his drama students to the National Tournament.
A five-diamond coach, Mr. Mattachione served many years as an OHSSL district chair, mentoring new coaches with this philosophy: “Demonstrate the need for communication in all walks of life; create an all-encompassing team for superstars and those who wait their turn; support your winners…love the also rans; teach respect for the audience, fellow team members, and competitors.”
Louie was a popular teacher and a great director and coach because of his happy outlook on life: “Always allow time to laugh…at yourself and with others. Remember…love conquers all. In the words of Monty Python, ‘Always look at the bright side of life.’”
Louie was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1993, but presented the honor a year later! He was directing a community theater production and could not attend Nationals the year of his election. The Hall of Fame honor had to wait because Louie agreed with Shakespeare, “The play’s the thing.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Sandra Worthington Silvers was always introduced as “the Queen of the South.” She had a white grand piano in her Georgia home and played beautifully. She was the Grande Dame of the Gold Key Coaches at the Barkley Forum. Her career was noted by many honors: the Thomas Glenn Pelham obelisk, for “devotion to the forensic arts”; the Ralph E. Carey Award for Distinguished Career Service (she was the founding and only NFL chair to lead the Georgia District); and election to the NFL Hall of Fame.
Mrs. Silvers spent her entire career teaching, counseling, and coaching at Calhoun High School, a town made famous by President Jimmy Carter’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Bert Lance. In fact, President Carter was an Honorary member of the Calhoun Chapter. Sandra and Calhoun joined NFL in 1970 and had a fine record until she retired for health reasons. Her Calhoun Chapter won two leading Chapter Awards, a District Sweepstakes Plaque and three District Tournament Trophies. Four Calhoun students were Georgia NFL point leaders in different years. Although the small Calhoun High School had to compete with the large Atlanta high schools, they more than held their own, winning the Barkley Forum Debate Contest twice, the Georgia state debate tournament, and the NFL district debate tournament. Sandra Silvers served 16 years as district chair winning the NFL Gold Award. She earned two coaching diamonds.
After it became known that Sandra’s illness was terminal, her friends in Calhoun and the Georgia forensic community held a celebration of life ceremony. Sandra sat in a large chair and welcomed them all: family, friends, former students, current debaters, coach colleagues. NFL President Tate lauded her career. NFL Secretary Copeland presented her the Ralph E, Carey Trophy for Distinguished Career Service. Barkley Forum officials led by Michael Jablonski paid their respects. Sandra Worthington Silvers, “Queen of the South”—a life well-lived.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Ray Cecil Carter
One person asks a question, another gives an answer, and that colloquy triggers an idea that creates something of value that lasts for years and makes life better. This is the path of invention.
In 1924, Ray Cecil Carter, speech coach at Albany High School (NY), wrote a letter to Bruno E. Jacob, manager of the Ripon College Chapter of Pi Kappa Delta (the collegiate forensic honorary society), which asked the question, “…do you know of any association of debaters’ membership in which high school students are welcome?” The answer Bruno wrote was, “As far as we know there is at present no organization for high school debaters.” But the question had given Bruno an idea. He continued, “If we felt that there was a real and sufficient interest among high school students and coaches we would, I am sure, be willing to go to considerable effort to sponsor such an enterprise.” A survey showed that other high schools were interested. A constitution was written, a name was selected, and Carter telegraphed the Albany High School ratification to become NFL Chapter #1.
Ray Cecil Carter was appointed the first NFL President, and served from 1925 to 1933. Mr. Carter had written a series of texts entitled, “Your English,” so he was selected the first editor of The Bulletin (later called Rostrum). He was awarded the NFL Distinguished Service Key in 1932.
The first National Tournament was held in 1931, at the nadir of the Great Depression. Carter qualified an Extempore speaker to the first Nationals, who did not attend. Six students did attend in the mid 1930s—three in Humorous Declamation, two in Oratory, and one in Dramatic Interpretation.
Apparently, Carter left coaching after 1937. The Albany High School NFL Charter expired in1942. Carter was appointed Supervisor of English for the Albany Schools and later Principal of Albany High School, where Hall of Fame coach Albert Odom would resurrect Chapter #1 in the 1960s.
Ray Cecil Carter, our first Board President, should be honored and remembered, because he asked the right question. Its answer began the chain of causality that led to the invention of our National Speech & Debate Association.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Peggy Ann Madden
A great Lady of Forensics! For more than 30 years, Peggy Madden and her colleagues, Royce Rice and Vernon Metz, ran the largest Chapter in Pittsburgh and one of the nation’s largest at North Hills High School (PA). Peggy served as district chair for 24 years, winning three Gold Awards. North Hills was ten times the Largest Chapter in Pittsburgh, eight times led the district in new members, featured three students as district point leaders, and won three Leading Chapter Awards. Mrs. Madden earned three NFL diamonds for her key during years when rounds were limited and point totals were capped.
At the Pittsburgh District Tournament, the North Hills squad won a Sweepstakes Plaque and two District Trophies. Nine debate teams, a Lincoln-Douglas debater, a Duo Interpretation team, and six speakers qualified to the National Tournament. Eighteen delegates were chosen to attend the National Congress. When asked why Pittsburgh students did not place at Nationals, Vernon Metz blamed their unusual accents.
Peggy was an outstanding tournament director. The North Hills Invitational was the largest in Western Pennsylvania. The district tournament was conducted flawlessly without protest. Peggy also administered the largest category at the National Tournament, consolation Impromptu Speaking. Coach Madden and her Pennsylvania crew managed every year to run a tournament for as many 500 entries in a single day!
Mrs. Madden was widely respected by her colleagues. When the NFL was seeking a new Executive Secretary, President Frank Sferra appointed Peggy, Donovan Cummings, and Darryl Fisher to screen the candidates, and recommend three finalists to the Executive Council.
Peggy believed that forensics should be fun: fun for the students and fun for the coaches. At every National Tournament coaches’ party, Peggy demanded the Pennsylvania Polka be played and everyone dance. It was always the high point of the festivities. Peggy loved life; we all loved Peggy.
— Compiled by James Copeland
The 1979 National Tournament was sponsored by the Phillips Petroleum Corporation, but Phillips executives walked out during the final debate. One was said to exclaim, “Is this is what our money is used for?” Concerned by speed and lack of communication by the debaters, executive George Meese attended an NFL Council Meeting to help the NFL solve the problem of uncommunicative debate.
The Council’s solution was to adopt “Lincoln-Douglas Debate.” Used in Colorado, LD had one speaker per side; changed topics frequently, used lay judges, and was very communication oriented. The event was immediately popular, but new, and the event needed someone to define its rules and develop the best practices for success. That person was Dale McCall of Florida.
Dale, coach at Twin Lakes High School (FL) and later Wellington High School (FL), was one of the nation’s finest coaches of Extempore Speaking and Policy Debate. Mrs. McCall encouraged LD to use topics of value to make LD different from Policy Debate. In her teaching at summer institutes and in her writing, Dale developed paradigms to argue value topics. Her contributions which shaped LD were brilliant, and soon LD was the NFL’s fastest growing event. Lincoln Financial Group provided awards, scholarships, and support.
Coach McCall was very successful at Nationals and on the national circuit. Her Policy teams, speakers, and LD debaters always placed well at NFL, TOC, and Emory, where she was a key coach. At Nationals, she coached a winner in Extemp and second places in Oratory and Prose. Two LD debaters made the top ten. In the district meet, her two school teams won four annual Sweepstakes Plaques and five Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophies. Her squads earned five Leading Chapter Awards.
No woman in the 20th century contributed more to the NFL and the speech and debate community than did Dale McCall. He guidance, teaching, and writing about the fledgling Lincoln-Douglas Debate event was critical to expanding learning opportunities in a different form of debate. Few coaches so ably coached Policy, LD, Extemp, and Oratory at the national level, as did Dale.
Donald Lee Smith
Bio coming soon!
Bio coming soon!
Perhaps the only NDT college debate finalist to choose a career as a high school debate coach, David Johnson established a stellar record at Houston Bellaire High School. In 1965 Mr. Johnson, debating for Northeastern College (OK), entered the NDT semifinal round against the powerful Georgetown team anchored by Bob Shrum, that year’s NDT top speaker. David and his partner won the decision, 3-2, and were in the finals. “Debate was the most important vehicle for personal growth I ever experienced,” remembers Johnson. “In a Northeast Oklahoma mining town…debate was a ticket out.”
Bellaire had a long history of success. The glass case in the school’s outer lobby was filled with many trophies, all from the National Tournament! But David coached no star system. More than 100 students competed each year. Bellaire was the South Texas District’s Largest Chapter 18 times. David worked hard for his students and is revered by his alums. He claims to be “the only living person to travel in a school bus with 44 ninth grade debaters.” Such sacrifice guarantees success. He coached more than 25 debate teams to first, second, or third place at TFA or at UIL State. One remarkable year, 18 different Bellaire debate teams qualified for the TFA state tournament.
At the 1979 Nationals, Bellaire won Policy Debate; in 1984, they placed second. Johnson’s squad won the National Sweepstakes twice and placed second thrice. They twice won the Bruno E. Jacob Trophy. Johnson served nine terms as district chair, winning the Gold Award. He also served a term as National Councilor and was instrumental in promoting Houston Urban Debate activities. He earned seven diamonds for his NFL key, during an outstanding career spanning more than 35 years.
David Johnson was a debater! There was no argument he would not contest; there was no controversy he would not join. Debate gave him a life, and he gave his life to debate—a circumstance which benefited thousands of his students and confounded all of his opponents. Fair Dinkum!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Bruno Jacob created the NFL/NSDA merit point system as a way to reward and motivate student speakers and debaters. Coaches are assigned one-tenth point for each student point earned, which is used as the basis for diamond key awards. The coach whose students earned more than 420,000 points, and thus earned himself more than 42,000 points and ten diamonds, was Ron Underwood at Beyer High School (CA).
Mr. Underwood’s coaching philosophy was succinct: “Providing as many opportunities for as many students as possible. Everyone is important…not just the stars. I was never one to run a stars-only program… I feel that speech education has so much to offer that I always wanted to make it available to as many as possible.”
Although Ron’s focus was participation, his results were magnificent: 600 qualifiers to the CHSAA State Tournament; 160 qualifiers to the NSDA National Tournament; many finalists; eight state champions and a national champion in Student Congress (now Congressional Debate).
Ron’s chapter was among the Association’s finest: Beyer was the largest chapter in the district 30 consecutive years, earning four Leading Chapter Awards. A Beyer student usually was district point leader. Ron’s squads dominated the district tournament, winning 24 yearly Sweepstakes Plaques and eight Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophies, a national record!
Ron’s service to the speech community is endless. Seventeen years as district chair, winning the Gold Award; 51 years serving in important positions on the CHSAA Council; and even in retirement he actively runs six middle school tournaments each year. Although “retired,” he still is an assistant coach at the middle and high schools. His wife, Sharron, always participated in Ron’s work. She attended tournaments, recorded merit points, and more. Ron defines his career as a “joint effort.”
Ron Underwood received his student membership in 1955. Now 63 years later, he is the longest serving member in NFL/NSDA history. Ron and Sharron: long may they reign!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Bruno E. Jacob once said that Debate was the King of speech activities and Oratory was the Queen. No coach has had more impact on and more success in coaching students to excel in the Queen of speech events than Joe Wycoff at Chesterton High School (IN) and Apple Valley High School (MN).
Joe’s parade of Chesterton national champions began with Drama in 1982; Oratory followed in 1986. In 1987, son Joseph Wycoff, Jr., won both Oratory and Humorous. Joe then coached a third Oratory winner in 1989. Team Chesterton won five consecutive Sweepstakes titles and two Bruno E. Jacob Trophies at Nationals; and 15 champion sweepstakes trophies at Indiana State!
His record at Apple Valley High School is also stellar: five Oratory national champions, and one in Dramatic, with his Hall of Fame wife Pam. The Apple Valley team also won several yearly School of Excellence Awards.
Coach Wycoff’s concept of a speech squad is that it is a competitive team. In Joe’s words, “This is not a club, it’s a team. We compete… Speech and debate trains you, conditions you, to get ready to play in the real world—where the real final rounds take place.” Joe Wycoff’s belief is, “A winner makes ’em take it.” Joe insists, “If the competition beats your best, that’s okay; you are a winner.” Once Joe showed disappointment to a contestant who finished second. “To this day, I think my non-verbals in the ‘heat of competition’ ruined her high school memories of speech and debate,” Joe recalls. “After that, I made a conscious effort to change… I made a commitment to not just competitively ‘take and win’ but to instead ‘give and sacrifice.’”
Who is Joe Wycoff? Good guy, excellent teacher, great coach, tough guy with a soft heart, who loves Pam and his children and deeply appreciates the work of his colleagues. He has been honored by his high school (Arsenal Tech) and college (Indiana Central) and is a co-founding member of the Indiana Speech Coaches Hall of Fame. Joe is a fine coach of all speech events, but his specialty is coaching Original Oratory. Coach of 11 National winners, eight in Oratory, Joe Wycoff is the King of our Queen.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Often a person may be defined by a single word. The defining word for David Dansky is “mensch.” This remarkable man established a speech and debate program in a most unlikely place and produced the most amazing results. Richmond Kennedy is an urban high school with a diverse population of students, which competed successfully against some of the most elite public and private schools in California. Kennedy was the largest NFL chapter in the nation in 1973, the second largest chapter twice, and among the top five schools in seven other years. According to David, “No student was ever turned away from the program.”
Kennedy led the San Francisco District in new members for 19 years. For 18 years, they were the district’s Largest Chapter, and four times they won the Leading Chapter Award! Coach Dansky stressed participation, and his students achieved excellence! As David recalls, “We demonstrated that a very diverse student body could compete against the great programs in America.” Kennedy won the California state sweepstakes three times. At NFL Nationals, a champion Impromptu speaker, a runner-up orator, and two other finalists were honored.
The year Dansky retired, the team was within one point of winning the Bruno E. Jacob cumulative sweepstakes trophy. Although the trophies were exciting, Dansky always felt, “You learn by competing; the real winning happens when, as an adult, you realize the value of forensics.” David Dansky served 14 years as district chair, won two Gold Awards, and earned six diamonds. He chaired a national committee to revise debate evidence rules. Each year, he donates a cake to the judges’ lounge at Nationals to honor his colleagues.
“Mensch” in Yiddish means “a person of integrity and honor.” David’s students and colleagues may not know that ancient word, but if they did, they would certainly agree it suits David Dansky.
— Compiled by James Copeland
His students all called him “Papa H.” He was Dad and Grandpa to generations of students. In his classroom, where all the NFL certificates were on display, his actually bore the name “Papa H.” Larry Highbaugh, coach at Ben Davis High School was an important figure in the NFL and Indiana forensics. He hosted Nationals twice (1975 and 1993), and he was an essential official at Nationals as Extemp prep room proctor. Larry also hosted regional, state, and invitational competitions. Larry’s life was one of service for others. Mr. Highbaugh was chair of the Speech Department at Ben Davis, and “Papa H” coached speech and debate: NFL categories and Indiana state categories, different in rules and greater in number. He also was sponsor of the Mask and Gavel Society, which performed two plays and a musical each year.
Larry’s teams, also coached by six-diamond coach Max McQueen, were always huge: 16 years the Largest Chapter in their district; 19 years in the national top ten, including two firsts and two seconds. Ben Davis also led the district 17 years in new members; 14 years on the national top ten list, including three firsts and three seconds. Larry’s squad won five Leading Chapter Awards, and multiple District Sweepstakes Plaques and Trophies.
Mr. Highbaugh served six terms as district chair, winning a Bronze Award and four Gold Awards. Larry earned five diamonds for his key and was awarded the NFL Distinguished Service Key and Plaque. Highbaugh and his staff qualified 51 entrants to the National Tournament: 29 speakers and 11 debate teams. Five students appeared in the final round, including two runners-up in Commentary. Twenty-three delegates qualified for the National Congress.
Larry suffered from diabetes and his final years were painful, but he continued to serve. The Governor of Indiana named Mr. Highbaugh a Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s highest honor! Halls of Fame in both Indiana and the NSDA also honored this able and selfless man.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Hall of Fame coach Albert Odom often said, “Hawaiians are gentle people.” None was more gentle or more generous than Misao Kubota! In Hawaii, a wreath, usually of flowers, is called a lei. In days past, Hawaiians wore them as a sign of rank or royalty. Now, they are given as a sign of honor and friendship. According to Odom, Mrs. Kubota initiated the presentation of leis to each national champion as a sign of honor, friendship, and congratulations from the state of Hawaii. This half-century old tradition is the most colorful part of the awards assembly. May 1 is lei day on Hawaii; but Friday is lei day at Nationals, when the contestants from Hawaii present the coveted wreaths to the champions.
At Baldwin High School, Misao qualified 25 students to NFL Nationals, including five debate teams; four in Dramatic; one in Humorous; two in Oratory, and eight in Extemp. Many of these students were Hawaii state champions.
Misao’s coaching at Baldwin, along with the coaches on Maui, were honored by the Maui Council: “Be it resolved by the county of Maui that it hereby recognizes the exceptional performances and achievements of the Maui district finalists…and extends its congratulations to finalists and coaches for a job well done.”
Mrs. Kubota also loved to bring gifts from the islands to her friends at Nationals: Macadamia nuts, plain and chocolate covered, and Hawaiian potato chips were given each year to Bruno Jacob, Lester Tucker, Albert Odom, members of the Council, and special friend Carmendale Fernandes. Misao, known for kindness and generosity, was adamant about only one thing. She and husband Toshio owned a special Mango tree, a Haden Mango, which many say yields the best tasting fruit. Often, people attempted to filch this fine fruit, and the gentle Misao had to shoo them from her yard!
In October of 2003, we lost our dear and true friend, Misao. But she will be remembered on the final day of each National Tournament, when the contestants from Hawaii present the beautiful and fragrant leis to each national champion. A grand tradition from a gentle people.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Tedd D. Woods
“That’s Harvard!” explained the dapper man softly, as the ballots showed first rank after first rank for the students at one of California’s most elite prep schools. The speaker, coach Tedd D. Woods, always took quiet pride in the outstanding results of his students.
Woods began his career teaching at the famous Black-Foxe Military Institute, school of choice for sons of Hollywood stars and wealthy Angelenos. When the Academy closed, Tedd moved to the elite Harvard (now Harvard-Westlake) School where he established a “golden age” of speech excellence.
Harvard School was the largest NFL chapter in the nation for 13 years! Coach Woods qualified 89 students to the National Tournament, including two National Congress (now Congressional Debate) champions, runners-up in Congress, Original Oratory, Dramatic Interpretation, and Expository Speaking, and a score of finalists and semifinalists. Harvard School was awarded the Karl E. Mundt Congress Sweepstakes Trophy in 1982.
Harvard also dominated the West Los Angeles NFL District, winning the Sweepstakes Plaque 13 times and the Tournament Trophy three times. Coach Woods’ personal teaching philosophy is, “Encourage each and every Harvard student to
‘tackle’ as many events as possible, and not coach only trophy winners or the top debate team.”
During Tedd’s tenure as coach, more than 85% of the Harvard School student body became NFL members. Mr. Woods achieved six diamonds by earning 31,600 coaching points, a record at that time. Known as the “Coach to the Stars,” Tedd taught football star and actor Mark Harmon, award winning actress Sally Kellerman, the son of famous comedian Danny Kaye, and several other children of Hollywood notables.
Mr. Woods’ career was capped by election to the CHASSA and NFL Halls of Fame, and a huge retirement party at Hollywood’s famous Sportsman’s Lodge. “That’s Tedd!”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Many years ago, a young man in a small Kansas high school was challenged by a new teacher to join the fledgling speech team. That teacher was future Hall of Fame coach Ronald Schafer; that student was future Hall of Fame coach Roger Brannan. As Roger remembers, “He drew me into the program and awakened an interest in what speech activities could accomplish. This eventually led me into an exciting career that kept me learning.”
Honored as the “Mahatma from Manhattan,” Roger’s teams were always successful in a very competitive state. He coached five Kansas state champion debate teams and eight individual state speech winners. He qualified 66 students to Nationals, 17 to the National Congress, and coached three National champions: Girls’ Extemp (1979); Senate (1983); and Poetry (1986). In 1983, Manhattan won the Congress Sweepstakes Trophy.
Brannan always coached large squads with this philosophy: “I was determined to make as many opportunities for thinking and speaking as I could for each student. My goal was to get students as many competition rounds as possible, in a variety of events.” Roger served his profession as president of the Kansas State Communication Association; chair of the East, West, and Flint-Hills NFL Districts; National Forensic League Councilor; and with years of work with his wife Doris in Kansas and National Tournament tab rooms.
His many honors include the KSCA Hall of Fame; the Kansas Debate Coaches Hall of Fame; the National Federation Outstanding Speech Educator Award; several NFL Gold Awards, the NFL Distinguished Service Key and Plaque (Third Honors); and most importantly, eight diamonds for his NFL key. An enduring record of service and competitive success writ large by the “Mahatma from Manhattan.” “Mahatma” in Sanskrit means “great soul” or “great spirit.” That is Roger Brannan!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Opal Hall, or as she preferred in all printed references, Mrs. Venson Hall, was a treasure. To all the people who wonder, “What happened to public education?” the answer is here. There was a time in Texas, and most states, when smart women were funneled into teaching. If that term sounds coercive, it is meant to be. The women who got a college degree in the 1950s—Opal Hall, Jean Boles, and others—were captured by the convenience of a summer off with their own kids and support roles at home. For several generations, public schools were the beneficiaries of smart women who had, with no fear of my saying it, class. And I don’t mean the rooms with the kids.
Opal Hall was that kind of woman. She was social. Everyone knew Opal and knew of her. She was stereotypical Texas hospitality, the first to greet and she knew no strangers. She was a diplomat. Denton High School teamed up with North Texas State to host the largest tournament in North Texas. And everyone knew that dealing with the legendary debate coach at North Texas State, Bill Demougeot, would only be as successful as Opal Hall’s diplomatic skills. The tournament went on for decades. In the NFL, she was a confidante of Bruno, Lester, and Carmendale!
Opal was a coach of that era. She had good students. She could offer valuable criticism, especially when it involved the dynamics of the ethos between speaker and audience. Opal knew that divine alchemy. It probably had something to do with the fact Opal could coach and win in the North Texas District and still have multiple “Miss Texas” winners. Opal knew beauty in all the realms. A civic booster in Denton once remarked that having Opal Hall was like having the finest finishing school. There was not much about presentation she did not know. And that was all presentation.
David Johnson likes to tell the story that when he came to coach at Bellaire High School, he stepped into a jovial but cynical group of students and coaches. But the first thing he was warned about was this: Opal Hall was off limits. You see, she had a track record with Bellaire that included everything from driving Bellaire kids back from Omaha Nationals, to providing the names of ex-students in Houston, calling them up, and getting them to judge at the Bellaire Forensic Tournament. As they explained in the language of the time, Mrs. Hall was a mensch.
She was what made Texas debate at that time. Warmth, genuine good will, and egos under control. Opal had a sense of humor about herself that was astounding. She never took herself that seriously. Others should have.
— Compiled by Hall of Fame coach David Johnson
Harold Carl Keller
“They call me Mr. Congress, but I’m really more than that,” Harold Keller wrote in a campaign column, when he was running for a seat on the Executive Council. Indeed, he was! A teacher at Davenport West High School (IA), he coached debate and all individual speech events in a small city public school, to average students, with no assistants, and ran an excellent program on a small budget.
The Davenport West squad won three Leading Chapter Awards; was four times the Largest Chapter; and won the District Sweepstakes Trophy three times. Keller was district chair four terms, receiving the Gold Award and the Distinguished Service Key and Plaque (Sixth Honors).
Yet he was “Mr. Congress” because he was Director of the National Student Congress; because he codified the rules for the National Congress; because he prepared the packet of Bills and Resolutions sent to every Congress qualifier; because he was instrumental in obtaining a sponsor for the National Congress; because his expertise was tapped by the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) to teach Congress skills to students in Eastern Europe!
The initial National Student Congress in 1938 was roundly acclaimed. Congress was the only NFL National event conducted during the WWII years. But by the middle 1960s it reached its nadir, when it had become “the back door to Nationals” for losing debaters who qualified in Congress—not to compete, but to watch debate rounds! Some districts did not even hold a Congress.
In 1988, H. K. was elected to the Council and proclaimed that Congress should be a main event and treated as such: equal awards and scholarships for the newly named “Legislative Debate”!
Harold Keller served 11 terms on the Executive Council and was Congress Director for more than 20 years. He coached 18 Congress national qualifiers, five top presiding officers, two finalists, and a national champion Representative in 1977.
Robert Caro called LBJ, “Master of the Senate.” The NFL called Harold Keller, “Mr. Congress.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Present at the beginning was Grace Walsh, when as a recent college graduate, she became debate and speech coach at tiny New Richmond High School (WI), in the early 1930s. New Richmond was one of the 25 original charter school members of the National Forensic League.
But she did not stay long. After receiving her M.A. degree in 1939, Grace accepted a position at Eau Claire State Teachers college, now University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she became a legend. For 36 years, Grace taught and coached speech and debate, and also established a Pi Kappa Delta chapter and co-founded and chaired the Speech Department.
The record of her teams and individuals is unequaled in Wisconsin: 25 state Oratory champions, including six national champions; 11 Wisconsin forensic champions. Year after year, her squad went undefeated in the state tournament team sweepstakes.
Yet Grace never forgot about high school forensics. She hosted the 1983 National Speech Tournament on Eau Claire’s campus. Chairing a staff that featured Peter Settle, later coach at Carroll College, and a squad of current and former students, Grace—along with future NSDA Hall of Fame coach Art McMillion and his wife Ruth—staged a memorable tournament, welcomed and supported by the small town of Eau Claire in northwest Wisconsin.
A humorous sidebar: Wisconsin is the cheese capital of America, and was the home of the NSDA national office. Secretary Lester Tucker and his assistant Albert Odom contributed a “Wheel of Cheese,” solid Wisconsin cheddar as large as a tire on a 16-wheeler, to the coaches’ lounge. Tucker thought it would last all week. Odom later recalled, “Those ‘rats’ ate it all in the first two days!”
Many college coaches have offered their time and talent to the NSDA. Some like Professor Grace Walsh and J. W. Patterson were former high school teachers and coaches, who would never forget the NSDA and later host its premier event. The NSDA remembers their significant contributions.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Ralph E. Bender
Donovan Cummings was a man of achievement. Coached by Hall of Fame coach John Davies, he was the first student to qualify to Nationals in three events: Oratory, Extemp, and Debate, where he reached the semifinals. Donovan would later receive a letter from Bruno Jacob saying that no student in the future would be allowed to qualify in three events.
In his junior year, Nationals had been held at Donovan’s school, Kenosha High School (WI). Donovan was eighth in Dramatic, and he and his partner were allowed to enter Debate as the host team.
Donovan loved debate and he loved performing, so he attended Northwestern University, the best Speech Department in the country at that time, and earned his B.S. in Speech Education.
He began coaching at Edison High School in Stockton, CA. Later, he would coach at both Edison High School and Stagg High School. His record was outstanding: two national champions in Dramatic; one in Expository; two finalists in Oratory. His schools won four District Trophies and three Leading Chapter Awards.
Donovan served 13 terms as district chair, earned two Gold Awards, and five diamonds. The white farm boy from rural Wisconsin loved the diverse population of students in Stockton. “…the Afro-Americans, Asian, Latino, and white students and parents enriched my life more than anything I could have done for them,” Donovan often said.
Cummings was active in CHASSA, serving two terms as president and being chosen a founding member of their Hall of Fame. He also aided the NFL by inventing the “California Plan,” the method used to conduct National speech events. For many years he served as tab room director, often with his close friend, Hall of Fame member Tom Montgomery.
Donovan Cummings was known for his great humanity. He was loved by his students and colleagues. When asked about his long career, he answered, “I cannot conceive of any profession more rewarding.” Our reward was knowing Donovan.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Dr. Jane Eldridge
Dr. Jane Eldridge was the first woman in NSDA history to earn the prestigious seventh diamond award-during many years when events were limited and points were scarce. Her long career of competitive success and selfless service to the forensic community is exemplary.
Dr. Eldridge has been presented the Thomas Glenn Pelham obelisk for “devotion to the forensic arts” by the Barkley Forum at Emory University. Jane also won the Ralph E. Carey Trophy for Distinguished Career Service and a Gold Award as longtime chair of the Tennessee District. Coach Eldridge earned the Barkley Forum Gold Key, the Distinguished Service Key, and the Distinguished Service Plaque. Dr. Eldridge has been tapped for both the NSDA Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Speech Hall of Fame.
Coaching at three different Nashville area schools, Madison, Hunters Lane, and Goodpasture, her squads won three Leading Chapter Awards, a District Sweepstakes Plaque, and four District Sweepstakes Trophies. A fine coach and judge of every event, Dr. Eldridge’s debate teams won the Barkley Forum in Atlanta and the Bicentennial Youth Debates in Philadelphia. She twice coached NSDA national champions in Congressional Debate.
Jane is one of the very few coaches who hosted two National Tournaments (1967 and 1988). Both were superbly planned and brilliantly executed, including the 1988 Banquet and Show at Nashville’s famous Opryland. At other Nationals, she served as co-director of the National Congress, and for many years as prep room co-director for Extemporaneous Speaking.
Dr. Jane Eldridge was a gracious woman in the tradition of the Old South: elegant in style, courteous in conduct, but plainspoken in her opinions.
— Compiled by James Copeland
National Office, Wisconsin
The National Forensic League was able to survive because of Marilyn’s commitment to the organization. Mrs. Hageman began her career in 1963 as assistant to the director, Bruno E. Jacob. She also served as office manager. Marilyn continued these duties for Secretaries Lester Tucker, Dennis Winfield, and James Copeland. She was the office manager through the lean years, working closely with comptroller Carol Zanto (also a future Hall of Fame member) to ensure the office stayed open.
In 1986, councilors Phyllis Barton and Donus Roberts became concerned about some personal and financial issues concerning Secretary Dennis Winfield. During a meeting between Mr. Winfield and the Executive Council, Winfield resigned. His wife then urged Marilyn to resign from the NFL and seek another job. But Marilyn chose to stay, which was critical. She was an expert at management, and the new Executive Secretary would have been lost without her expertise. She also was popular with the members.
The Council appointed James Copeland to serve as temporary Secretary and ordered an audit of the NFL’s books. The auditors, Coopers and Lybrand, reported that the NFL had no funds and should go out of business! Copeland spent the next several years on the road arranging funding, building membership, and seeking grants. The office and League business were dependent on the hard work of Marilyn, Carol, and the rest of the staff to conduct daily business in a pre-computer world.
Marilyn’s work also was critical to the National Tournament. She and Carol worked tirelessly, often into the wee hours and for days, with past president and Hall of Fame member James Hawker to hand-assign judges for every round of speech and debate.
Marilyn retired in 1996 but continued to serve part time during the rush prior to Nationals and also returned to help in the finance department part time. She celebrated her 80th birthday with the Ripon staff while working in the office.
History reveals that Donus and Phyllis saved the NFL—but without the personal commitment of Marilyn Hageman, the organization may not have survived and prospered.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Wisconsin has provided 12 members for the Hall of Fame. One of Wisconsin’s best, a master of coaching debate and Oratory, is Art McMillion. Art began his career at West Bend. That chapter was seven years the district’s largest, one year eighth largest in the nation. His squad won both the Leading Chapter Award and the District Tournament Trophy. Art qualified two debate teams to Nationals by winning the state tournament.
Art then crossed the state to coach at Eau Claire Memorial High School. Hobbled by travel restrictions and being only an extracurricular program, Art’s well-trained students never had the opportunity to compete on the national circuit; but in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and at Nationals, they were great! So was McMillion, who served 13 terms as district chair of the Wisconsin and Northern Wisconsin NFL Districts, winning the Gold Award and three coaching diamonds.
In 1985, Art hosted of one of the finest and most popular National Tournaments, as the city of Eau Claire and the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire rolled out the red carpet for coaches and competitors. At the district tournament, Art’s squad won the Sweepstakes Plaque five times and the Cumulative Trophy twice. At Nationals, seven students reached the final round; three were champions. Coach McMillion’s most exhilarating moment occurred at the 1985 Nationals, when two of his speakers were crowned champions, one in Oratory and one in Drama.
In other years, Memorial won the Bruno E. Jacob Trophy and placed second in Sweepstakes. Although widely known for his excellence as a teacher and debate coach, Oratory was his passion. He coached six orators to the final round, three of them champions. His 1975 champion, Ned Wahl, was one of the finest in NFL history. McMillion was well-liked by his coach colleagues. One voluble coach complained that Art’s teams won, week after week, yet Art remained popular! Intensely competitive, very successful, and always a gentleman; that was the art of being Art.
— Compiled by James Copeland
L. D. Naegelin
On a hot St. Louis June night in 1998, one of the most powerful speakers in the speech and debate community, James J. Unger, delivered a ringing funeral eulogy to the assembled National Tournament in tribute to the late NFL President, Lanny Dean Naegelin. In his speech, Unger introduced “the Co-Captain of Team Naegelin, Betty Jean Naegelin.” In fact, Mrs. Naegelin disliked her name and wished to be called B. J. And so it was: L. D. and B. J. Perfectly matched they were: he, a gentle giant, warm and expansive; she, a perfect lady, protective and supportive.
The San Antonio minister who preached Lanny’s funeral was wrong when he said, “Lanny married an older woman, so there would be no children.” Every one of their students was their child.
Hall of Fame coach Ron Krikac believed this was what created their success. Every contestant felt their support and love. Before an important round, either L. D. or B. J. would meet their contestant outside the contest room for a hug or handshake and a pep talk. Once this strategy backfired. Lanny had coached a Milton Academy (MA) student, Austan Goolsbee, at a summer institute, and they became friends. At the 1987 Nationals, Austan had received a rank of first in all earlier rounds. Before semifinals, Lanny met Austan outside a room, wished him good luck, and closed the door. Oops! The two semifinal rooms were side by side; Lanny had guided Austan into the wrong room! Fortunately, despite Austan’s seventh place for competing in the wrong room, he earned unanimous first place ranks in the final round, and won.
Lanny began his career at San Antonio-Jefferson High School, where B. J. also taught. One Texas coach called him “Mr. UIL” because he concentrated his program on the state league. But in 1979, his team won the NFL Sweepstakes. At Jefferson, Lanny taught B. J.’s daughter, married her mother, and Team Naegelin was formed.
Lanny and B. J. moved to Churchill High School in the fall of 1979. Results were immediate and impressive: a Lincoln-Douglas Champion (1981); Boys’ Extemp Champions (1981, 1982, and 1984); Dramatic (1985), Humorous (1986), and a runner-up debate team (1988). Four students placed second; 22 reached the final round.
Team Naegelin coached the National Sweepstakes winning team three times (1980, 1983, and 1985) and won the Bruno E. Jacob Trophy in 1986. But the win they wanted most, got away. “Lanny always wanted to win Oratory,” said Jim Unger.
Team Naegelin dominated Central Texas NFL. They coached squads which won six District Sweepstakes Plaques and three District Sweepstakes Trophies. They taught six district point leading students, two of whom who were first in the nation. Churchill won two Leading Chapter Awards.
The Naegelins always encouraged students to enter several events—which was “very common in Texas forensics,” relates Ron Krikac. “Most of the top Churchill students did four different events in each Texas tournament.” At Nationals, L. D. often double qualified students; two of these students reached double final rounds the same year.
Mr. Naegelin was founding chair of the Central Texas District and earlier chair of West Texas NFL, earning two Gold Awards. Lanny was elected to the NFL Executive Council in 1987. He chaired the committee who developed the “Bradley Videos,” a series that allowed “the humblest student in the land to learn from the greatest teachers in the land.” He was elected NFL President in 1996.
Lanny was a first-rate tournament director, and he worked national and state tab rooms with accuracy and fairness. B. J. and L. D. were nationally known as excellent teachers and were marquee attractions every summer at the Georgetown and later American University Institutes. They were proud that their summer coaching had produced national champions from schools other than Churchill and who had occasionally beaten Churchill entries!
Lanny’s many honors include President of the Texas Speech Communication Association and the Texas Forensic Association; TSCA Teacher of the Year; Trinity University Award for Teacher Excellence; a Barkley Forum Gold Key and later the Glenn Pelham Award from Emory University; the TFA Distinguished Service Award; and selection as an Associated Press Presidential Debate Evaluator.
L. D. wanted to coach forever, but in 1987 he left coaching and accepted a position as Fine Arts Coordinator for the North East Independent School District (NEISD). He felt the endless bus rides all over Texas and the National Circuit grind were a chore for B. J. But according to Hall of Fame coach Kandi King, “He never quit coaching kids at Churchill or at any other NEISD school.” And in 1992, he finally coached an Oratory national champion!
B. J. felt Lanny was trying to do too much: coaching long hours, hosting and running UIL and NFL district events; being NFL President; and directing plays and musicals. Too much work and too little sleep caused Lanny to pass out at a rehearsal. One morning Lanny awoke with a blinding headache. B. J. called 911. Lanny had suffered a stroke. After almost a year of treatment and therapy, he died in February of 1998. Team Naegelin had been cruelly torn apart. The San Antonio Light published a moving obituary: “Naegelin’s record of achievement is best measured in the lives he touched… He taught not only the art of speech and the beauty of words, but how to speak the language of life articulately and passionately…” The fine words could not bring him back. Co-Captain B. J. was alone.
To read more about B. J. Naegelin, click here.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Several members of the Hall of Fame have become school administrators, but only one a state league administrator. After a long and successful career as a teacher and speech coach, Arlene Akerman was asked to direct the large and competitive Ohio High School Speech League.
For many years her fairness and expertise ruled. Tournaments were conducted professionally and smoothly; protests were handled judiciously. Arlene’s hard work, and the fine support of a volunteer staff, produced memorable tournaments for the students and coaches of Ohio.
Arlene was no newcomer to leadership. She was selected by NFL founder Bruno Jacob to hold the proxies of absent members at NFL Executive Council meetings. Her participation was always constructive and helpful. In later years, when changes in NFL management were advocated by her friend Phyllis Barton, Arlene’s advice was invaluable. Her five years as NFL chair in the large Western Ohio District earned her the Gold Award.
Mrs. Akerman’s career began at Fairmont-East High School in the Dayton, OH suburb of Kettering. Hall of Fame member Leah Funck, coach at Fairmont-West High School, was her mentor. Leah and Arlene worked closely for years, and the schools were combined in 1985. Arlene produced stellar results at East. A national champion in Dramatic Interpretation in 1971, was presaged by a third place in 1965. The golden year was 1973: second in debate, second in sweepstakes, and fourth in Extemporaneous.
At the highly competitive district tournament, East won a district trophy and a yearly plaque. East was five times Leading Chapter in Western Ohio; once in the national top ten. These results led to a Leading Chapter Award. In 1985, Arlene accepted the National Student Congress Trophy as coach at Fairmont High School and was awarded her fourth diamond.
At every National Tournament after her election to the Hall in 1987, Arlene judged a final round. She was always introduced on stage as “The Queen of Ohio.” She was right to reign!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Phyllis Flory Barton
One of the finest and most successful debate coaches in NFL history—one of very few to win the national debate championship in both the NFL National Tournament and the National Catholic Forensic League Grand Tournament—is Phyllis Barton, coach at Princeton High School (OH) Another of her teams placed second at NCFL, while several others placed at national invitationals including the Barkley Forum, the Churchillian, and the TOC. Twice her team was named Ohio state debate champion.
Mrs. Barton was widely praised for her untiring service to the high school debate community. She served her profession as NFL councilor and vice president; National Tournament host in 1978 and 1987; and NCFL Grand host in 1984. The yearly Princeton Debate Invitational attracted top teams.
As past president of the Ohio High School Speech League, and a member of the its Hall of Fame, she often hosted the OHSSL State Tournament. Phyllis Barton received every major forensic award: a two-diamond key from the NFL; a Barkley Forum Key from Emory University; the Coach of the Year silver plate from the Churchillian Debate Society; the Outstanding Teacher of Speech Award from the Ohio Speech Communication Association; and election to the Tournament of Champions Hall of Fame.
When Phyllis Barton discovered dishonorable conduct in NFL administration, she demanded a change. She and Donus Roberts saved your League, by re-instituting transparency and integrity.
For the last ten years of her life, Phyllis battled cancer while refusing to slow down her pace. Her commitment to coaching her students and serving her profession was unflagging. She often quoted a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
“My candle burns at both ends;
It shall not last the night;
But ah! my foes and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.”
Phyllis Barton died in 1990, but the light she left behind will never be extinguished!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Bio coming soon!
Inducted 1987 Georgia
Glenn Pelham was an impressive figure with an artistic wife and an academically talented son. Glenn Pelham was a renaissance man: he graduated from the John Marshall School of Law and served as Georgia State Senator and County Judge. He studied at the Juilliard School of Music, directed church choirs, and wrote choral music. He was interested in historical preservation. Glenn Pelham was an educator: high school teacher and debate coach, director of the Barkley Forum at Emory University, and chair of the Georgia State Senate Education Committee.
Mr. Pelham—few called him Glenn; it was always “Mr. Pelham” or “G.P” for the favored—believed that “the purpose of life was to serve.” He was a friend, confidante, and adviser to all who honored him with their friendship, including President Jimmy Carter.
At the 1967 NSDA (then NFL) National Tournament, James Unger introduced Pelham to Brother René Sterner and James Copeland. Pelham asked for their help to expand his tournament, the Barkley Forum for High Schools, from a southern focused-event to a national-focused event.
Pelham’s vision was soon realized: Northern debate teams from Bronx Science, the Glenbrooks, and Pittsburgh Central Catholic came, as did Southern teams Pace, Calhoun, MBA, and Woodward. Hall of Fame coach Ted Belch spoke of a “debate triple crown: NFL and NCFL Nationals and the Barkley Forum.” NFL Vice President Phyllis Barton called the Emory tournament “The Masters.”
Always the educator, Glenn Pelham wished to honor exceptional teachers. He founded the Gold Key Society, where each year at a special dinner, coaches elected by their peers were presented a large Gold Key on a ribbon to be worn around their neck during the tournament and a lapel key to be worn forever—signs that their colleagues had proclaimed their excellence.
He authored Stage Fright be Damned (1979) and Manual of Contemporary Debate (1969). Other honors during life include kudos from the Atlanta Constitution as “the most outstanding member of the [Georgia State] Senate”; national honorary membership in the National Forensic League [now NSDA]; and mentions in Who’s Who, Outstanding Young Men in America, Who’s Who in American Politics, and the Dictionary of International Biography.
Thomas Glenn Pelham is now gone. His great service yielded results that will never be forgotten!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Donus D. Roberts
Every organization’s most important person is its founder, whose vision gave birth to the group. The second most important is the person who, generations later, saves the organization from its excesses. Bruno Jacob is the former; the latter is Donus Roberts of Watertown High School, SD. Donus is a man of ideas. His proposal for an ombudsperson at the National Tournament established perfect transparency and fair dispute resolution. His creation of a Public Forum Debate event returned communication to the debate process. His intervention, with the help of Phyllis Barton, brought about a change in NFL leadership during a time of financial and ethical crisis.
A forensic coach decides between a large program (more students) and a small program (more success). Donus believed both size and quality could be achieved. For 35 consecutive years, Watertown was one of the nation’s five Largest Chapters. Roberts’ goal was, “…a broad-based forensic education program, that emphasizes equality first and stars second.” Yet his squad won 14 state debate championships; usually placed top three and 65% first in sweepstakes at state and interstate invitationals; frequently debated late rounds of Policy Debate at Nationals; won the Karl Mundt Congress Trophy and the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob Trophy; and claimed a national speech champion.
Roberts earned 11 diamonds, yet always shared points with assistants for their diamonds. He was awarded the NFL Distinguished Service Plaque for his work on the Executive Council and as NFL president, and he was the initial recipient of the Brother Gregory “René” Sterner Lifetime Service Award following the award’s namesake. “Whatever contributions I have made to forensics and the NFL,” Donus wrote “…would have been seriously diminished without my wife Lovila, who has served as coach, cheerleader, and leader for our teams.”
Donus D. Roberts: outstanding speaker; principled advocate; creative thinker; one of the greatest coaches of all time. The NDSA you enjoy today would not have been possible without the courage and expertise of Mr. Roberts.
— Compiled by James Copeland
“I wanna debate,” said freshman Frankie Sferra. “Frankie, you aren’t smart enough to debate,” answered the priest. “We want you in Humorous Reading.” This cruel colloquy marked the beginning of a journey which would culminate at the presidency of the National Forensic League.
Young Frankie Sferra was a boy who hated school. Regis was the best high school in Denver, but shy Frankie was lost. A kindly priest persuaded him to join the speech team. There, young Frankie found friends and an activity he liked. He was fascinated by debate, and finally got his chance, but the results were disappointing: one win and five losses. But Frank was not done with debate and debate was not done with him. After college, he founded a debate program at Bishop Machebeuf High School.
Later, Frank would begin a coaching career at Mullen High School (CO), which would span half a century! Not smart enough? Frank would qualify 75 students to the National Tournament and 30 to the National Congress. Not smart enough to debate? Frank coached two Mullen debate teams to the national final round in back to back years, and the squad that won the Senator Karl Mundt Legislative Debate Trophy. Not smart enough? Frank also coached a national champion Orator.
Frank Sferra became one of the most honored high school speech coaches: the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame (the first debate coach so honored); the National High School Hall of Fame (the first debate coach so honored); the Emory University Barkley Forum Glenn Pelham obelisk for “devotion to the forensic arts.” Frank earned seven NFL coaching diamonds; the Distinguished Service Key and Plaque; and the Ralph E. Carey Trophy for Distinguished Career Service as district chair. His squad won four Leading Chapter Awards.
The popular Frank served five years as NFL president, before voluntarily relinquishing the office to a friend. He could have remained as president, but Frank was not concerned with high office or awards. His often-quoted reason for his service was, “I’m in this for the kids.” Very smart choice, indeed!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Bro. Gregory "René" Sterner, FSC
As Past President and Permanent Grand Tournament Director of the National Catholic League (NCFL) and Administrative Representative and Councilor of the National Forensic League (NFL), no person had more influence and impact on national high school speech competition than did Brother René.
For more than four decades, he taught top level teams and individuals: as coach and assistant principal at Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School (PA); as coach and president at Calvert Hall College High School (MD); and as coach and president at La Salle College High School (PA).
The many national honors earned by his squads include an NCFL Grand sweepstakes championship; an NFL Policy Debate championship; a Barkley Forum Policy Debate championship; an NFL champion Extemporaneous Speaker; back-to-back American Legion champion orators; and a DSR/TKA Bruno E. Jacob Trophy.
His service to his profession was extensive: Diocesan Director of NCFL Leagues in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Philadelphia; NFL chair of the Pittsburgh and Valley Forge Districts. He hosted NCFL Grand Tournaments in Pittsburgh and Baltimore and NFL Nationals in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
His greatest service saved NFL Nationals. In the mid 1990s, the chair of the NASSP Contest Committee persuaded the committee to no longer sanction Nationals, because it picked one school as national champion. Brother Rene and NFL Secretary Copeland personally met with the committee and were able to work out a compromise, which allowed the National Tournament to continue.
Six-diamond coach Brother René Sterner was presented the “Pro Pontifice Et Ecclesia” Medal from Pope John Paul II, and was commended by the Legislatures of Maryland and Pennsylvania. The NSDA presented him the initial “Lifetime Service Award” and named the award in his honor.
Those people who knew him best, his students, “were in awe of him,” says his colleague Gene Kail. Brother Gregory “René” Sterner, FSC devoted his life to the Catholic Church, the Christian Brothers, and their schools, his students, and speech education. This was a man! When comes such another?
— Compiled by James Copeland
In the 1950s, the Eastern Ohio NFL District was a hotbed of Cross-Examination (now called Policy) Debate. Great coaches like Don Terry (Lehman), Ruth Whitaker, (Glenwood), Farther John Midday (St. Ignatius), and Jesse McDowell (Hoover) prepared their teams to meet perhaps the toughest competition in the nation, all in eastern Ohio. One of the finest coaches was Karl Boyle (Louisville).
Boyle qualified more than 50 entries to Nationals, including nine Policy Debate teams. In the space of five years, he coached a national debate champion, a runner-up, and two third place teams. Coach Boyle’s speakers also performed well: ten made the final round, including a champion, two runners-up, and four third places. In 1962, the Louisville squad was awarded the TKA (now the Bruno E. Jacob) Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophy.
Karl Boyle served as district chair for six terms, winning three Gold Awards. But his most important service to the NFL was performed years later, after he retired from coaching. For years he served as a committee of one to research and write every Extemp Speaking topic. Secretary James Copeland had long felt that extempore speaking contests were often unfair, because a mix of topics on different subjects guaranteed that the contestant who drew a topic on a subject of great interest would have a competitive edge on a contestant who drew a bland topic. Karl Boyle spent all year researching and phrasing topics of equal merit. Topic areas were selected and a different area was used in each round. All the topics in a round were in the same general subject area, but each specific question was unique.
Mr. Boyle had been a fine coach of Extemp. Seven of his students made the national final round, including a champion and a runner-up in Girls’ Extemp and a third place in Boys’ Extemp. Little is remembered about NFL in the 1950s. Yet those who were there recall that competition was fierce, diamonds were scarce, entries to Nationals were hard to earn. Some of the greatest coaches, like Karl Boyle, were the giants on whose shoulders later Hall of Fame coaches would stand.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Ralph E. Carey
Perhaps the most charismatic of all Hall of Fame members, Ralph wanted to be a movie star. Not unreasonable. NFL members like Academy Award winning actress Patricia Neal and Tony Award winning actor Josh Gad have starred on screen and stage. But Ralph also loved debate and coaching, and chose to became debate coach at Hialeah High School (FL) and later at Miami Beach High School.
In those years, Florida was one single NFL district of highly competitive schools and very good coaches. And only a single qualifier in each event was invited to Nationals. Ralph often said, “If you can win in Florida, you can win at Nationals.” And win he did: a finalist and a semifinalist in debate; a National Champion orator; two second place sweepstakes teams, and the Tau Kappa Alpha (now the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob) Trophy. Carey coached 60 students to Nationals, including 11 debate teams.
A Barkley Forum Key Coach, Ralph’s debaters won two championships and a second at Emory. Carey’s squads dominated Florida: ten times winner of the District Sweepstakes Plaque; thrice recipient of the District Trophy. Ralph’s school was twice Leading Chapter; three times Largest Chapter; with state student point leader nine times (five times in the national top ten).
Ralph was a popular district chair, elected to 19 terms. He was awarded two Gold Awards and a Distinguished Service Key and Plaque. The top NSDA district chair award for Distinguished Career Service is named in his honor. Ralph earned three diamonds for his NFL Key. He ran for Council three times but unfortunately was never elected. His platform was, “As an advocate of the ‘Big Umbrella’ organization, with room for kids of varying abilities, I believe that forensic programs…must offer opportunities to less able students to improve their communication skills.”
Ralph was very outspoken. He had good ideas and wanted to share them. Carmendale Fernandes, NFL coaches meeting chair, dubbed Ralph, “the guest speaker.” But many of his ideas were adopted!
Ralph E. Carey was loved by his students and colleagues alike. All grieved when he died young.
— Compiled by James Copeland
When Bruno Jacob was working with Karl Mundt to codify the foundation of the fledgling National Forensic League, composition of its governing board was a key issue. The NFL was considered an extracurricular activity, and such organizations were closely scrutinized by school officials, boards of education, and regional school accreditation bodies. It was no accident that the League’s first president Ray Cecil Carter and longest serving president Karl Mundt strongly recommended that school administrators be on the governing board. (Carter would later become a principal; Mundt both a principal and superintendent.) Hence, the NFL constitution called for a superintendent and a high school principal be selected by the elected members to the full Board of Directors.
Sometimes what appears to be a perfect solution in theory, disappoints in practice. Bruno and Karl hoped for vigorous participation and wise counsel from the chosen administrators. Over the history of the League (now the National Speech & Debate Association), there have been a few superb administrator members, several who were mediocre, some disinterested, one always absent.
The legendary coach H. B. Mitchell, himself a superintendent, was excellent for almost 40 years! Among the very best principals were Brother René Sterner (PA) and Ronald Last from Provo High School (UT), who was already a national honorary member of the NFL/NSDA. Although never a coach, Principal Last was aggressively supportive of coach Roger Moore and his speech and debate team. The Provo squad, during Last’s years as principal, finished runner-up twice in the National Sweepstakes, and placed six competitors in the final round. Under Last’s leadership, Provo High School sponsored a summer clinic for Utah forensic competitors, headed by Dr. James Unger.
Last served on the NSDA Board of Directors from 1977 until his retirement in 1985. He brought fresh eyes and ears to Board proposals and debates. The function of an outside director is to speak for members not present. Principal Ron Last put students first and stressed educational values. Always!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Cecil J. Pickett
Cecil Pickett, drama coach at Bellaire High School, was probably the first coach to realize that Original Oratory was actually a performance/interp event. He routinely had Dramatic Interp winners (four firsts at Nationals and three other finalists) do Oratory.
Chuck Norris was not the only actor that came out of Ryan, Oklahoma. Cecil Pickett was clearly the greatest one. All the world was his stage, and he was on it all the time. His ability to see to the heart of literature is unmatched. His realization—that the subtle was more revealing than the exaggeration—was unrivaled. It is fortunate that Humorous Interp was not a qualifying event for Nationals, for his record there would have been even more impressive. His imagination and insight were without equal.
The state league of Texas was notorious for its requirement that Prose and Poetry selections had to come from an approved author list. Each round, one of three sections of approved authors was drawn. Every drama coach had that special nightmare, “What if my best Interp students draws a bad author list?” Cecil never worried about that. His last first place student winner at the Texas state tournament in Poetry won with the reading of Longfellow’s Hiawatha. When the young man stood up with arms crossed and began the introduction, “Today’s poem is Hiawatha, Henry Longfellow is my author…” in the exact drumbeat heard on the shores of Gitche Gumee, no one else had a chance.
If you’ve ever been to Ryan, Oklahoma, it begs the question, “How could a such a rose grow here?” Because each person can choose the priority of their experiences, truly beautiful people can grow in the most unlikely places. Cecil chose carefully. The ultimate selections were his. He never missed.
— Compiled by Hall of Fame coach David Johnson
Frances F. Ferris
Vice-presidential wife Lynne Cheney wrote, “It’s hard to overstate what a strong figure Frances Ferris was.” This remarkable woman coached for 41 years at Casper-Natrona County High School (WY) in the Rocky Mountain District, a combination of Wyoming and Colorado. “Teaching during days when progressive educators were arguing that schools should teach cooperation, not competition, she was unhesitating about teaching her students to win,” writes Ms. Cheney.
Her NFL records begin in 1936 with a debate team at Nationals. Ms. Ferris qualified seven students in 1939, the year she coached the largest chapter in the district—a success she repeated against the large Colorado schools four other years. Her squad won the Leading Chapter Award in 1949.
Francis served as district chair in 1940. She was senior coach in the district by 1949. Bruno Jacob appointed her to the Twentieth Anniversary Committee to plan for the NFL’s Silver Anniversary in 1950. Events were limited and travel difficult, but Ms. Ferris earned NFL second diamond #18 in 1956.
At the district tournament, the Casper-Natrona squad won six yearly Sweepstakes Trophies (now Plaques) and one Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophy.
Her qualifiers established a fine record at the National Tournament: two champions in Radio Speaking, a champion in Poetry Reading, and three main event finalists. Her student, Tommy Kidd, was Chairman of the Republican Nominating Convention in 1952, a part of Student Congress. She qualified 56 students to 18 Nationals and won the Tau Kappa Alpha (now the PKD/Bruno E. Jacob) National Sweepstakes Trophy in 1965, her final year.
Casper, the second largest city in Wyoming, was still a small town in the middle of the last century. I-25 had not been built, winter travel was difficult, contests were far away, and bus rides were long. Yet Frances fielded competitors who excelled. We in the 21st centry can only marvel at the dedication and perseverance of coaches like Frances Ferris.
— Compiled by James Copeland
“She was always happy, always humming,” is the way one friend described Lois Sackman, founder and longtime coach of the NSDA chapter at Riverton High School (WY). Like most speech coaches in the 1960s, Lois wore two hats. Earlier she had founded the Thespian Troupe at the high school and later she became president of the Educational Theater Association (National Thespians). Ms. Sackman is the only person ever elected to both the Thespian and NSDA Halls of Fame! Her stage productions were so good, she was chosen to direct Riverton’s Fiftieth Anniversary Pageant.
Readers now will have no idea about coaching speech and debate in 1960s Wyoming. The Rocky Mountain District was the largest geographical NSDA district, containing the entire states of Wyoming and Colorado. Winter weather and long distances made travel difficult in times before the interstate highways were built. Budgets were meager, often requiring fundraising. Yet Wyoming Hall of Fame members (Lois, Albert James, Michael Starks) and their colleagues soldiered on.
Ms. Sackman was selected as Wyoming Teacher of the Year in 1981. She earned NFL third diamond #49 in 1979. Less than 50 third diamonds were earned since the organization was founded in 1925. In 20 years of coaching at a small school, she qualified 10 students to Nationals, including three who qualified twice, two in Congress, one state champion debate team, and a national runner-up in Radio Speaking.
In 2015, Lois completed a trifecta of Hall of Fame memberships when she was posthumously inducted as an inaugural member of the Riverton High School Hall of Fame. At the ceremony one former student recalled, “She really took her students to heart and would do anything to help them.”
Lois Sackman: Hall of Fame drama director, Hall of Fame speech and debate coach, state teacher of the year, and high school Hall of Fame inductee. Unheralded in our time; remarkable in any time.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Ron Shafer was a complex man: intense as a coach and messianic about the values of forensics. Ron was a vigorous recruiter, who cared about his students but demanded their best. Coaching in tiny Meade, Kansas, one of his first students was future Hall of Fame coach Roger Brannan who recalls, “He exuded a brash confidence… I found him to be a great motivator… He paid attention to us and made the speech/debate experience enjoyable.” Ron’s debaters won the Class B state title in 1960. Ron then moved to Atchison High School (KS), where his team won the District Sweepstakes Plaque twice.
Later at Parkway West High School, his chapter was often the largest in Missouri, when that state was a single district, and later usually the largest in the Ozark and East Missouri districts. Six times Ron’s chapter made the national top ten in size or enrollments. Parkway West was Leading Chapter twice. Ron earned the NSDA Distinguished Service Key and Distinguished Service Plaque, second honors.
At the district tournament, his Parkway West squad won six Sweepstakes Plaques and the District Trophy twice. He qualified 196 students to Nationals, including three finalists.
Ron Shafer stories always reveal his intensity. At a Missouri tournament one of Ron’s debaters had just lost a final round, and Ron spotted him whistling and wearing a cowboy hat. Coach Shafer grabbed the hat and stomped on it in front of the surprised student. But Ron was popular with students and colleagues. He was committed to their activity and their success. After retirement, Ron Shafer earned NFL fifth diamond #5, coaching at Hodge High School in Missouri. Earning five diamonds during a time of travel and point restrictions, and limited events, was a remarkable feat, achieved by a committed man.
Roger Brannan has the final words: “I was not one of his most talented, but he did believe I had some promise. His influence led me into the field of coaching debate and speech activities. I am grateful for that… Ron was one of a kind. He was cocky and brash. He could wade into a group of goofy kids, establish order, and motivate them to good performance. In the process, he CARED.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
By 1947, WWII was over, speech and debate contests were again held, and North Kansas City High School regained its NFL Charter, which expired in 1940. The woman chosen to rebuild the program was Mabel Hale. The state of Missouri was a single NFL district in the years after the war. The largest Chapter by far was Sikeston High School, a school which attended neither the District or National Tournaments. The bulk of NFL Chapters were in the St. Louis area or the Kansas City area—on opposite sides of the state. Mabel Hale served as Missouri district chair from 1955 through 1957.
Mabel was an excellent coach and competed against other future Missouri Hall of Fame coaches like her Kansas City rival, Margaret Meredith. Mabel coached two Missouri state champion debate teams, but was bested by Margaret Merideth’s seven champions. Miss Hale’s teams won the District Sweepstakes Plaque once and the District Tournament Trophy twice. Mabel coached three national finalists, including third places in Radio Speaking and Boys’ Extemporaneous Speaking. The extemper, James Kinkaid, would become a great trial lawyer and father of Jimmy Kinkaid, who would win Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the 1983 Nationals. Mabel qualified 23 students to the National Tournament, including three debate teams.
The difficulty of qualifying students to Nationals during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s cannot be overemphasized! Only a first place at the district or state tournament in only five events (Debate, Boys’ and Girls’ Extemp, Original Oratory, and Dramatic Interpretation) qualified. Equally difficult was earning coaching points. With few events, a cap on the number of rounds of competition for each student (40), and far fewer tournaments, it is no wonder that the first four-diamond coach was not crowned until 1966. Mabel Hale earned two diamonds. To some people, Mabel appeared to be sharp-tongued. She was not. But she was very competitive in a very competitive state. She had to be.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Albert S. Odom
“National Forensic League, Albert Odom Speaking.” For more than 30 years, the dulcet tones and courtly manners of Albert Odom represented the NFL on the telephone and in person as associate secretary. He was very popular: the Tennesseans invited him to judge at their district; the Louisianans fed him Cajun food; the Hawaiians brought him macadamia nuts from the islands every year at Nationals.
Hall of Fame coach Greg Varley referred to him as “a very intelligent man.” For 30years and more, Albert served one passion: “the League.” Born into a working class Texas family, Albert won his college education when he won an automobile in a raffle at the state fair. He sold the car and entered the University of Houston and earned his B.A. degree.
After serving stateside in WWII, he used the G.I. Bill and received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. Albert’s first and last teaching job was at Albany High School (NY). He was hired to reinvigorate NFL Chapter #1. His principal was Ray Cecil Carter, who wrote to Bruno Jacob in 1925, asking if high school debaters could join Pi Kappa Delta. That letter gave Bruno the idea to form the National Forensic League.
Albert coached 15 years and qualified nine students to Nationals. He coached a classic form of debate, solid argument and clear communication. Albany did not win every tournament, but as Albert explained, “If you wanted to win, you had to beat ‘The High School.’” He served two terms as chair of the New York State District. Albany was three times the district’s Largest Chapter. Albert’s squad won two District Sweepstakes Plaques, two District Trophies, and the Leading Chapter Award.
In 1969, Albert joined the NFL staff. He served as editor of Rostrum, auditor of District Tournament results, tabulator of election ballots, and Director of the National Student Congress.
Albert died of cancer in 2003. When Secretary James Copeland asked Albert what he could do for him, Albert responded, “Protect the League.”
— Compiled by James Copeland
Anne D. White
If one is defining a person’s life by a single word, the word for Anne Douglas White would be “courage”! Anne wore a heavy iron interlocking brace on her leg, perhaps from polio (it was never discussed). Yet she conducted a vigorous life: teaching math and coaching debate and speech at John Overton High School in Nashville; caring for elderly parents; and serving as a major figure in the NSDA/NFL. She never allowed her infirmity or pain to slow her active life.
Miss White served 18 terms as Tennessee district chair, winning the Gold Award. Anne was also local host chair for the 1967 National Speech Tournament at David Lipscomb College in Nashville. And she was a proud member of Emory University’s Barkley Forum Gold Key Society. The NSDA honored her with a Distinguished Service Key and later a Distinguished Service Plaque. Miss White earned three diamonds for her coaching pin during years when events were limited, participation was capped, and points were scarce. (No student could compete and record points in more than 40 rounds of competition or forfeit national entry.)
Anne White conducted a large and vibrant chapter at Overton, winning two Leading Chapter Awards and celebrating six students who led the district in NSDA points in different years. At the district tournament, Overton won eight yearly Sweepstakes Plaques and four District Trophies. They successfully competed in the state tournament and looked forward to an annual Atlanta trip to compete in the Barkley Forum Tournament to compete in Policy Debate. Coach White qualified 10 Policy teams, two Lincoln-Douglas debaters, 16 speakers, and 15 Congress delegates to the National Tournament. She coached a national champion in Impromptu Speaking in 1972. She was well regarded nationally—a friend of Bruno Jacob and admired by Lester Tucker and Albert Odom.
Every evening when he was anchor for the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather signed off with the admonition, “Courage!” Every night Dan said it. Every day Anne White lived it!
— Complied by James M. Copeland
Louie Banker was the gadfly of high school debate coaches. He knew everybody and everybody had their favorite story about Louie. Louis H. Banker founded the Ft. Osage High School NFL Chapter in 1960. He called his debate room “the Waldorf room,” because it was the room used to store Waldorf toilet tissue. He called his aged van “Gloria” when she ran well, and “Sic transit” when she did not. He smoked incessantly and suffered a heart attack at a debate tournament, but he did not quit either smoking or debate.
Louie was well-liked and quite competent in coaching debate and running tournaments. He was twice elected chair of the Missouri District, when the entire state was only one NFL district. Louie earned three diamonds when points were scarce, and R. J. Happe (MN) was the only fourth-diamond coach. In the 1960s, Louie attended his first National Tournament as an observer. He offered his services to Bruno Jacob, and Bruno put him in the tab room, a great honor. At that time, only Kansans were allowed to tab, since Kansas students were not allowed by their state to attend Nationals. Mr. Banker never coached a high school national champion, but his student David Jeans won the college National Debate Tournament (NDT). Louie ran a large program. Ft. Osage was eight times the Largest Chapter in their district (twice in the national top ten). Banker qualified 17 students to Nationals (three debate teams) and four students to the National Congress. He coached the Missouri state debate champions in 1977.
One infamous Louie story occurred at a tournament run by his rival Margaret Meredith. Her tab room was closed to coaches (especially Louie), but he desperately wanted to know the results and the next day’s pairings, written on the tab room blackboard. After dark, Louie climbed up to the windowsill of the tab room with a flashlight to see the results. Alas, he was spotted by police and arrested!
Nevertheless, Louie worked tirelessly to help his students. After each practice debate and his long critique, he would grin and say, “Let’s debate it again.” He will be missed.
— Compiled by James Copeland
It is almost always true. Some person has a great idea (the NFL should have a Hall of Fame). Other people create a structure (the NFL Council establishes a Hall of Fame). Then one person does all the work (Jean Boles). From the time of her induction until her death, Ms. Boles served as the unofficial and unelected, but absolutely necessary, Hall of Fame Secretary. She coordinated the scholarship grants; she corresponded with members; she spent two years getting tax exempt status for the Hall, so members contributions would be tax-deductible. Jean’s work was essential and perfect.
Jean Boles was one of the few women on the debate team of the legendary H. B. Mitchell. She began her coaching career at Sam Houston High School, a struggling inner city school in Texas. With her coaching and hard work, Jean qualified entries to Nationals. She transferred to Houston-Memorial (TX), an affluent program in disarray. Jean turned it around: six times the Largest Chapter in East Texas and three times led the district in new NFL members. Jean’s Chapter won the Leading Chapter Award in 1977. At the tough East Texas District Tournament, the Memorial squad won the District Plaque thrice and the District Trophy twice. Four times a student at Memorial led the district in NFL points.
At Nationals, the Memorial squad won the Tau Kappa Alpha (now Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob) Trophy in 1970. A three-diamond coach during a time when points were hard to earn, Mrs. Boles served three terms as district chair, winning two Silver Awards.
Harold Keller visited Jean shortly before her death. She was happily surrounded by her extended family watching movies. After years of service, Jean left a sizable bequest to the NFL.
Hall of Fame colleague David Johnson recalls, “Jean was really regarded as an elder stateswoman… Very respected in any situation… Jean had a long-range historical vision of debate, but she always had a clear vision of what could be done to improve things.” And she did the work!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Dr. Bill Henderson
One of the most competitive NFL coaches and one of the most successful was Bill Henderson, who taught and coached at Sand Springs High School in Oklahoma and Jesse Jones High School and Bellaire High School in Texas.
At the National Tournament, Bill’s Sand Springs debate team was second in 1958, and his Bellaire team won the 1968 championship. Henderson also was an expert individual events coach. David Zarefsky won Oratory in 1964; his brother, Paul, was runner-up in Boys’ Extemp in 1969. Debate Ccampion Lane Heard scored a second victory in the same year by winning Boys’ Extemp. Bill also coached third place winners in Boys’ and Girls’ Extemp and a champion NFL Congress Senator. His Bellaire squad won the coveted Tau Kappa Alpha (now Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob) Trophy in 1967. As coach, Bill was awarded the Bruno Jacob Commendation.
Winning Nationals was not as difficult as qualifying for Nationals from the South Texas NFL district, according to Henderson. Indeed, Spring Branch High School, coached by Bill’s friend and Hall of Fame coach, Rex Fleming, and Memorial High School won national championships during Henderson’s tenure at Bellaire.
Each year, Bill directed the largest high school speech tournament in America at Bellaire. Dr. Henderson received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1975. After leaving Bellaire in 1970, he taught at the University of Houston and Macalester College.
In 1978, Bill was named Director of Forensics at the University of Northern Iowa. His commitment to forensics continued: he coached debaters and speakers; hosted the UNI college and high school tournaments as well as the UNI high school institute. He also coached at other summer forensic institutes.
Dr. Henderson performed other academic duties, including chair of the Humanities and Fine Arts Senate; UNI faculty senator; and author of multiple academic publications. Bill was Associate Professor of Communication Studies at his retirement in 2001, and an Emeritus Professor until his death in 2016.
— Compiled by James Copeland
J. W. Patterson
He never debated in high school. Stillwell High School had no team. Yet for more than 70 years, no debate and speech coach has had more influence, or been so popular, with the high school debate community. J. W. Patterson coached nine years at Muskogee High School. Oklahoma has a long history of very competitive forensics, and Patterson’s squad was one of the best. At NFL Nationals, J. W. coached a semifinalist debate team, two Boys’ Extemp champions, and a second and third place finish in Dramatic Interp. At districts, his squad won the team trophy twice. He also coached multiple state champions and finalists, including a debate final against student debater and future Hall of Fame coach Bill Henderson—Class A state debate winners vs. Class B state debate winners to qualify for Nationals!
In 1956, J. W. and the City of Muskogee welcomed the National Speech Tournament. The entire town participated: the Rotary Club provided funding; the banquet was at the Country Club; a supper at a nearby lake was sponsored by the Rotary Club; Corning Glass presented an elegant glass trophy for the winning squad. Many rounds, including the finals of Poetry Reading, were held at the local funeral home. The winning poem? “Bury the Dead”! Bruno Jacob thought that Muskogee in June would be too hot, but finally proclaimed it the “shirtsleeve Nationals,” no coats and ties.
After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Patterson accepted a position of debate director and student government sponsor at the University of Kentucky. But J. W. never forgot the high schools. In 1961, he initiated a summer debate institute at UK. In 1971, he established the Tournament of Champions (TOC), which with NFL Nationals and NCFL Grand, in racing parlance, would be the Debate Triple Crown.
Patterson coached an NDT championship and other NDT finalists, but his influence on debate was not limited to coaching and tournament management. He and former NFL champion David Zarefsky co-authored an influential debate text, Contemporary Debate.
At age 90, Professor Patterson is still attending events. The speech community has no better friend.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Although best known for his teaching and coaching at Shawnee Mission High School (KS), later renamed Shawnee Mission East High School, Maurice Swanson began his coaching and teaching career in Weskan on the Kansas/Colorado border. “That is TRULY the hinterlands of Kansas,” says Hall of Fame coach and fellow Kansan Roger Brannan. “Look at it on the map.”
Roger also recalls, “Maury was a class guy.” Other Kansas coaches of renown agree. Hall of Fame coach Cathy Wood, who also taught in the Shawnee Mission district, remembers his kindness to her as a young teacher. Retired Hall of Fame coach Pam McComas notes Swanson’s Kansas accomplishments: Outstanding Teacher at Shawnee Mission High School; President of the Kansas Speech Association; and Kansas Outstanding Speech Teacher.
“Swanny” earned three diamonds and a district chair Gold Award. His chapter was one of the country’s largest and often largest in Kansas. Maury qualified three teams to the tough Kansas AA State Debate Tournament, placing second one year and third another. Shawnee Mission East won in 1969, Mr. Swanson’s retirement year.
In 1970, Swanson’s colleague Jerry Ashen, coach at Shawnee Mission North, hosted the first National Tournament in Kansas since 1936. Maurice delivered a hilarious banquet speech. Swanson and coaches of his era were usually unable to qualify students to the National Speech Tournament, because of a ban enforced by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Although Kansas schools participated in earlier years (Topeka High School won the Sweepstakes in 1936!), state officials did not approve participation after that. The reasons for such a ban were said to include primacy for the state tournament and resistance to extensive travel and costs for high school students. The ban was violated at least four times, perhaps by graduated seniors, including a debate team in 1967, coached by Swanson. Kansans were finally allowed to allowed to participate in 1969. Today, Kansas qualifies students from seven districts. Maurice Swanson, a class guy, would be proud.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Mary Blackburn was a heroine of the Great Depression—a speech coach at Granite City High School (IL). Granite City was an industrial “company town” in the shadow of St. Louis, Missouri, built in 1896 by the owners of the St. Louis Stamping Company, the maker of Granite Ware kitchen supplies.
Founded in 1927, the Granite City High School charter was #58. In 1931, at the bottom of the Great Depression, coach Mary Blackburn took her team to Ripon College and the first National Speech Tournament. Her student, Howard Wilson, won both Oratory and Oratorical Declamation! Another student, Howard Stark, finished second in Dramatic Declamation. These results were more exciting than changing trains in Chicago to get to Ripon, Wisconsin.
Coach Blackburn continued winning with the 1932 Nationals, with Wilson second in Dramatic and Stark in double final rounds, Oratory and Dramatic. In 1933, Stark won Dramatic and was runner-up in Oratorical. Throughout the 1930s, Mary’s speakers impressed at Nationals: a Humor winner in 1934; winners in 1936 and 1937, Julia Pitchford in Humor both years; three finalists in 1939, second, third, fourth, and winning the National Trophy (today the Bruno E. Jacob/Pi Kappa/Delta Trophy).
In 1941, the last tournament prior to the WWII suspension, Ms. Blackburn coached a second in Poetry. During her splendid career, she qualified 43 students to 11 National Tournaments; five to the National Congress, including a senator and a representative at the first Congress in 1938.
Mary Blackburn earned many accolades and awards: Leading Chapter Award; Distinguished Service Key and Plaque, and the first Silver Distinguished Service Plaque in NFL history. Five different years Mary placed in the national coaches top ten. She was awarded diamond #168 in 1956. In a small factory town during the Depression and WWII, Mary Blackburn’s talent shown through.
C. Edwin Brower
“WE NEED ED BROWER on the Executive Council,” screamed the capital letters in an election column written by future Hall of Fame coach Charline Burton in Rostrum magazine. Charline was correct: Ed was needed, Ed was elected, and eventually Ed rose to be NFL vice president. His awards include a two-diamond key.
Big Ed and his feisty wife Norma were extremely popular. Ed had coached several years in New York and spent two years as NFL assistant secretary under Lester Tucker. His responsibilities included working with districts and their tournaments. But Norma did not care for Ripon, Wisconsin, and the pay was low. When Ed was offered the coaching job at Dallas-Jesuit, one of the finest academic schools in Texas, he welcomed the move. Although he often said his big job was raising money to support the debate program, Ed was one of the premier debate coaches of his time.
The Dallas-Jesuit chapter under his leadership was four years the Largest Chapter in the North Texas District and won the Leading Chapter Award in 1976. Jesuit students led the district in NFL points for four years. At the district tournament, Jesuit won the Sweepstakes Plaque four years and the Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophy in 1976. Coach Brower qualified nine debate teams to Nationals, including a semifinalist and quarterfinalist. Twelve speakers (mostly in Boys’ Extemp) qualified, including a runner-up in Impromptu Speaking.
As a Councilor, Ed was concerned about spread debate and lack of communication. He supported several different solutions, including his innovative idea of making the constructive speeches shorter and the rebuttals longer, better to avoid the end of debate rapid fire spew. “The problems of the National Forensic League are also my problems,” wrote Edwin Brower. “I would like the opportunity to help in their solution….” Ed had been both coach and NFL administrator. He offered thoughtfulness and fairness, which made him both popular and effective.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Whether you define her as the doyenne (the most knowledgeable member of a group) or the Grand Dame (the most respected member of a group), or both—Leah Funck, coach at Fairmont-East in Ohio, was the most successful coach of Interpretation in her day. Leah placed five Dramatic students in the national final round, including a champion, a runner-up, and a third place.
Judging in Interpretation contests is very subjective. Some judges follow the teaching of Charlotte Lee: the interpreter must be an unobtrusive window between the text and the audience. Other judges treat the contest as solo acting, broad pantomime and a lot of movement. Students and coaches in Interpretation events face variety in judging and volatility of results. Events where standards are less disputed, yield more predictable results. In Oratory, for example, Joe Wycoff coached eight winners. Placing five finalists in Dramatic (no Humorous contest existed in Leah’s day) is remarkable!
Leah Funck ran a superb NFL Chapter: eight times the Largest Chapter in the district; 12 years the leader in new members (many years in the nation’s top ten, including two third places); and Leading Chapter Awards in 1956 and 1971. At the tough Western Ohio district tournament, the Fairmont-West squad won five District Plaques and the Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophy.
Miss Funck served six terms as district chair, winning the Gold Award. At the 1966 Nationals, Leah remarked that her contestant in Congress, a debater defeated at districts, had entered “the back door to Nationals.” That image helped persuade the NFL to upgrade Student Congress to Legislative Debate.
Leah’s friend and Hall of Fame sister, Arlene Akerman, relates, “Her wonderful sense of humor, dry and smug, set her apart from other people… To achieve her respect, you had to be patient, sincere, and limited with your words.” After East and West were combined into a single school, the two friends worked together.
Doyenne or Grand Dame? The lady had talent and shared it. Her results prove that!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Novalyn Price Ellis
After a long and successful teaching career, Mrs. Ellis became famous for One Who Walked Alone, her biography of Robert E. Howard, creator of the famous fictional character Conan the Barbarian. Ellis revealed that as a young woman, she was the friend and confidant of Howard, who committed suicide in 1936. Ellis’ book became the movie, The Whole Wide World.
Novalyn herself was an author, but until her book was published, she was best known as a coach of champion speakers in the NFL and NCFL. She taught first in Cross Plains High School (TX) where she met Howard. Later, her teams in Louisiana schools were known for their speech prowess.
Novalyn founded the NFL Chapter at Lafayette High School (LA) in 1960. Later she would teach and coach at Cathedral-Carmel, a Catholic high school, which would excel at the NCFL Grand Tournament. Coach for 15 years at Lafayette High, her squad was five times the Largest Chapter—first in the Unassigned District, later in the East Texas District. Novalyn and Marilyn Kleban then founded the Louisiana District. In 1969, Lafayette won the District Tournament Trophy; in 1975, the Leading Chapter Award. Mrs. Ellis coached a student to national runner-up in NFL points. Her National Tournament record is impressive. During years with few events and limited entries, she qualified 23 students, including a Girls’ Extemporeous Speaking champion and a third place in Impromptu Speaking.
Lafayette Parish speech coaches were unpaid, unlike football coaches. Mrs. Ellis convinced her principal to name her an assistant football coach so she could be paid for her work. She coached so many winners at the state tournament, the Sweepstakes Trophy was named after her when she retired from Lafayette High. She then promptly began coaching at Cathedral-Carmel—and won the eponymous trophy.
Her life was so full of famous friends, great successes, and dramatic events it could have been a book and a Hollywood movie. Oh, that’s right. It was!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Lenabell Sloan Martin
Four decades or more ago, at the largest tournament in Colorado, the Golden-Mullen Invitational, future Hall of Fame members Frank Sferra and Lowell Sharp established a singular award to be presented each year to a person who made a significant contribution to speech and debate education. They named the award after a legendary Colorado coach, Lenabell Sloan Martin.
She had coached less than 20 years in a tiny Denver high school, St. Francis de Sales, but what a record she accomplished! Colorado had five future Hall of Fame coaches. And Colorado was in the Rocky Mountain District, where Wyoming had two future Hall of Fame coaches. Ms. Martin would join them all in the Hall!
Coach Lenabell began in 1954. Her first coaching points, 40.7, were handwritten by NFL founder Bruno Jacob. In the next 18 years, Ms. Martin’s chapter would earn top accolades. Hers was the largest ten times—eight in Rocky Mountain and two in the new Colorado District. Nine times the St. Francis squad led their district in new members enrolled, winning a Leading Chapter Award in the largest district in the nation.
At the district tournament, Lenabell’s team earned a Sweepstakes Plaque and the District Trophy twice. St. Francis de Sales qualified 14 entries to Nationals, including finalists in Girls’ Extemp and Poetry. A Policy Debate team made the quarterfinals. Lenabell earned three diamonds for her key.
In those years, Nationals entries were difficult to earn, requiring first at state or first at districts, only! In those years, National events were also limited: Boys’ Extemp, Girls’ Extemp; Oratory, Dramatic, Debate (Policy), and Congress. In those years, points were scarce, since competition was restricted. In some years, points were only allowed for 40 rounds of contests, plus state and district, per student.
Lenabell Martin built a major program at a small school, in a tough district, during tough times. Frank and Lowell were correct. She should be remembered.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Lester M. Tucker
One of the hardest things in the world of work is to follow a legend! Lester Tucker tried his best. For many years he was speech coach at Howe Military School in Indiana, and one of the nation’s finest teachers of Oral Interpretation. Then he was selected as NFL Assistant Secretary. In 1969, NFL Founder Bruno Jacob retired and Lester Tucker became Secretary of the National Forensic League.
Lester’s teaching and coaching at Howe was exemplary. The Howe Chapter, under Lester’s leadership, was seven times the largest in the state of Indiana and five times in the nation’s top ten, including a second and third place. Howe won three Leading Chapter Awards. At the district tournament, Lester’s squad won the District Trophy and qualified 16 students to Nationals (only first place qualified in those years). Four Howe students reached the final round: three in Dramatic Declamation and one in Oratorical Declamation. Another student was president of the Senate.
Lester Tucker rendered great service to the NFL. For three years, he was editor of the NFL magazine, Rostrum. He served as Indiana district chair twice. He earned a Distinguished Service Key and Plaque, and two diamonds.
As NFL Secretary, it was difficult to escape the long shadow of the great Bruno Jacob. Lester had to work with a divided Executive Council and demands from coaches who would call him at night to complain. Very sensitive, he often took personally arguments about League policies.
But Lester was pleased when Humorous returned as a National event. He was very well-liked by the older coaches. He was an original member of the Wood Rats, a coaches’ social club. Lester enjoyed cooking and inviting his friends over for a meal. He loved antiquing with his friend Albert Odom, and was an expert on antique furniture.
In 1975, Vice-President Vernon Metz moved to have him replaced. The Council rejected Vernon’s move. Lester retired three years later. Say what you will; he did his best.
— Compiled by James Copeland
NFL debate was dominated by great male coaches: Grady, Mitchell, Sexton, Belch, Sferra. But Esther Kalmbach challenged their domain. She established the Whitmer NFL Chapter in Ohio in 1960. By 1965, it was the district’s Largest Chapter and would be for a decade, each year in the nation’s top ten. Esther explained, “I was interested in helping all students. The four best would be my top team, but I hope I never failed in helping all students.” One coach recalls that during the Whitmer Tournament, Esther took time to persuade a sophomore girl to join her team. Greg Rosenbaum said, “She is always recruiting new kids.” Her large squads won two Leading Chapter Awards.
Esther qualified her first debate team in 1962 and would qualify nine more before leaving Whitmer. In 1966, her team debated the national final round, but lost. At the 1969 Ohio state debate tournament, Esther was simultaneously exhilarated and disappointed when Whitmer defeated her daughter Carolyn (debating for another school) in the final round. In 1970, Esther qualified two teams. Whitmer debaters won back to back national championships in 1971 and 1972, only the second team to do so. The 1971 squad was third in Sweepstakes. In 1974, a Witmer debater won Radio Speaking.
Esther believed in preparation: answers to opponents’ arguments must be researched; every aspect of delivery must be perfected; there must be lots of practice. Her debaters were trained to exude confidence, even if they were panicking. Debaters were never allowed to see ballots, until Esther used scissors to cut out every comment that might cause a student to become discouraged or cocky. The best arguments were kept secret until the time was right. One year, Whitmer lost several times to a rival school, but used the best arguments to beat them at districts and qualify for Nationals.
Esther says, “I always enjoyed my life. My hard work was because I loved what I was doing.” The most successful female debate coach in the Hall of Fame should not be remembered as only a “female” coach. Esther Kalmbach was a COACH, as the all-male coaches she beat remember well!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Women have always played an important role in the National Speech & Debate Association. The coach of the first champion debate team in 1931 was Mrs. W. S. O’Bannon. In the first five years at Nationals, there were nine women champions, and women coached more National winners than men did. But it was not until 1953 a woman took her seat on the Executive Council. Helen Malseed, coach at McKeesport High School, was named to the Council in 1953.
Helen taught World History, Speech, Consumer Economics, coached speech and debate, directed the school play, and the town’s Children’s Play. She served six terms as district chair, earning four Gold Awards. Helen earned three diamonds, one of few coaches to do so at that time!
In the Pittsburgh District, and later in the Western Pennsylvania District, Helen’s squad distinguished itself as a vibrant chapter. The McKeesport team placed a student on the national top ten point leader list five times, including a first, third, and fourth. Seven times they led the district in new members, thrice in the national top ten, including a tie for second one year. Helen’s squad earned two Leading Chapter Awards, sixteen District Sweepstakes Plaques, and a District Cumulative Trophy.
Ms. Malseed qualified 36 entries to the National Speech Tournament, including a fourth in Extemporaneous Speaking in the first tournament after the war. Helen, a fine debate coach, qualified ten teams to Nationals, including a national semifinalist team. She qualified ten legislators to the National Congress, including a Speaker of the House and a President of the Senate.
Helen was a hard working teacher and coach in a hard working industrial town near Pittsburgh. As the first female Board member, she was a role model for the women who would be elected in later years: President Carmendale Fernandes, Vice President Phyllis Barton, Glenda Ferguson, Kandi King, Pam McComas, President Pam Wycoff, and those who would follow. Helen was the giant upon whose shoulders later successful women would stand.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Margaret L. Meredith
She was the Grande Dame (please pronounce each “a” as “ah”) of Missouri. A Grande Dame is a woman of “accomplishment and prestige; admired, and respected.” Margaret Meredith, longtime coach at Independence-Chrisman High School, was all of these. She knew Harry and Bess Truman, of course, and had been invited to their home. Harry was an honorary member of Margaret’s NFL Chapter.
Many recall she ran Missouri NFL with a velvet glove. Her teams and individual speakers were successful, and at least one or more qualified for Nationals almost every year.
During most of her long tenure, Missouri NFL was the entire state. What a tough district! Hall of Fame colleague Louie Banker said, “If you qualified two students every five years, you were a good coach.” With one winner in each event at state, and one winner in each event from districts, only five NFL events meant only two debate teams and ten speakers qualified. Louie remembered Miss Meredith quietly put pressure on her students. At the start of each season, she would remind the team that at least one Chrisman student always qualified for Nationals. Margaret would ask, “Will you be the one to let Chrisman down this year?” And they rarely did.
Miss Meredith coached the NFL point leading student in Missouri four different years. Her team won four Leading Chapter Awards, 16 District Sweepstakes Plaques, and a District Trophy.
At the National Tournament, Chrisman won the TKA (now Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob) Trophy in 1956 and the National Sweepstakes in 1957! Margaret coached a Poetry champion, a runner-up debate team, and second places in Drama, Extempore (mixed), and Girls’ Extemp twice (the same student in succeeding years), among 24 students who made the final round.
Margaret Meredith served five terms as Missouri district chair. She earned three diamonds during years when coaching points were scarce. For 30 years of teaching and coaching, she never let Chrisman or its students down. The Grande Dame of Missouri was indeed grand!
— Compiled by James Copeland
Rev. John J. Miday
The Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuit Order, has a long history of important debates. Perhaps the most famous was the Tower of London debates, wherein Edmund Campion, S.J. debated three Privy Councilors of the Queen; and not the least of these debates, where missionary Pierre Chazelle, S.J. debated two Ojibwa Chiefs on Walpole Island, Canada. Schools and colleges founded by the Jesuit Order accorded debate training a major place. One Jesuit high school handbook proclaims, “Debate is a tremendous pedagogical tool, and reaching the high levels of debate requires mastery of arguments from many disciplines…”
A great high school Jesuit debate coach was Father John Miday at Cleveland St. Ignatius High School (OH). The high school debate coach of James J. Unger, NDT finalist, and later voted by his peers as the best college debate coach of his time, Father Miday led a powerful NFL chapter. The St. Ignatius squad was 11 years the largest chapter in Northern Ohio and seven times led the district in new members. Eight times Miday’s squad placed in the NFL national top ten schools, including a second and a third. He coached the leading NFL point student in the district in five different years.
At the Northern Ohio district tournament, the St. Ignatius squad won the Sweepstakes Plaque three years and the Cumulative Sweepstakes Trophy three different times. Father Miday qualified five debate teams and six speakers to the NFL National Speech Tournament, including a first place in Radio Speaking, a third place in Boys Extempore Speaking, and three quarterfinal debate teams. Eleven students represented St. Ignatius at the National Congress, including a Speaker of the House and a President of the Senate.
Father Miday was an engaging priest with a wry wit. He earned two diamonds and served three terms as district chair. His sister, Mrs. Ruth Whitaker, was also an Ohio debate coach, at Glenwood High School.
— Compiled by James Copeland
Oklahoma; Iowa; Wisconsin
“He brought a new energy to NFL,” remembered Bro. René Sterner. Indeed he did. A little-known coach, Dennis Winfield was first elected to the NFL Council, then to the NFL presidency, and finally as Executive Secretary, in less than a decade. Dennis was a master of politics, who campaigned against the aging administration in Ripon, Wisconsin, and an entrenched National Council. A clever campaigner, he used his school’s 800 number to call coaches, and persuade them he would make needed changes, if elected.
Winfield began as a college orator and student of legendary coach of Dr. Valgene Littlefield at Oklahoma Northeastern University. Dennis taught at several Oklahoma schools, including OKC Northeast High School. He moved to Iowa in 1968 and taught first at Davenport Central and later at Waterloo East, where he also served as publicity director. Dennis married Collette Mikesell, forensic coach at Cedar Rapids High School, in 1970.
Winfield was elected NFL Councilor in 1975, defeating James Copeland, who disputed the election. The Council had a rule against campaigning, except for one column in Rostrum. Winfield had used the aforementioned 800 number to call coaches nationwide. The council refused Copeland’s appeal, but later expanded the Council by two seats. Dennis was elected president in 1977, defeating James Hawker. In 1978, NFL Secretary Lester Tucker retired, and urged the Council to select his assistant, Albert Odom. But Dennis lobbied the Council that change was needed, and he was elected Executive Secretary. The key moment: Frank Sferra, assumed to favor Odom, nominated Winfield.
The first years of Winfield’s administration were quite energetic. He traveled widely to district and invitational tournaments to meet members and hear their concerns. League membership grew. In later years, his personal problems affected the League and its members. In 1986, Donus Roberts and Phyllis Barton demanded a special Council meeting to counsel Winfield. He protested the meeting and denied the intervention; then resigned.
— Compiled by James Copeland
The Founding Class
Bruno E. Jacob, Founder
“Although tournament winners are appropriately acknowledged, the selection of national champions has never been the primary purpose of the National Tournament. Two other motives dominated. First, to provide a compelling incentive for students to undertake the arduous efforts necessary to acquire a high degree of skill in public speaking. Second, to establish a demonstration laboratory where the best in current high school speaking could be observed by students and teachers from every section of the country, for the improvement of the speech techniques in their own areas.”
The first NFL Nationals was held in May of 1931 at Ripon College. In all, 49 schools from 17 states attended, with 138 students competing in Debate, Extempore Speaking, Oratory, Oratorical Declamation, Dramatic Declamation, and Humorous Declamation. A total of 53 coaches were present. The New York Times covered the tournament with a front page article. Bruno Jacob struggled to keep the League alive during America’s Great Depression. “Our printer agreed that if we kept our debt under $1,000 dollars at the end of each year, he would continue to print,” recalled Bruno years later. In 1934, Mr. Jacob moved the NFL to Denver for two years, where he completed his Master’s degree. While on a camping trip with the President of Tau Kappa Alpha, a collegiate forensic society, Bruno persuaded him that TKA should sponsor a trophy (now the Pi Kappa Delta/Bruno E. Jacob trophy) to reward the school that had accumulated the most rounds of competition at the National Tournament. Mr. Jacob often said, “Contestants should be eliminated as quickly and fairly as possible.” Donus Roberts, who attended more than 50 Nationals, and served as an ombudsman at several, remembers, “More than anything Bruno stood for honesty, integrity, and character.” Over the years, Mr. Jacob would allow no taint of favoritism by tournament officials. Hall of Fame Vice President Vernon Metz recalled that Bruno admonished a famous debate coach for attempting to influence judges. Past President James Hawker tracked speech round speaking positions assigned by a famous coach and found that the coaches’ own entries always were placed in favorable positions. When shown the evidence, Bruno never again asked that coach to tab. When the state of Kansas would not allow Kansas students to attend Nationals, Mr. Jacob hired Kansas coaches to run the tab room. They were absolutely neutral. Mr. Jacob would do anything to protect the NFL’s reputation for fairness. In 1936, the sixth National Tournament was hosted by Classen High School in Oklahoma City, OK. The tournament hosted 365 students. One was an African American, Caleb Thompson, from Peekskill High School (NY). It is unclear whether he was the first African American entry at Nationals, but certainly the first to compete where Nationals was held in a state which forbade, by law, the mixing of the races in high school competitions. The tournament host, Hall of Fame coach C. E. “Pop” Grady, faced a dilemma: Oklahoma City schools were segregated by law. But Caleb was an official entry, having won the New York State District. Under NFL rules, he had the right to compete. Grady’s solution: Thompson could compete, but at Douglas, the African American school, not at Classen. Thompson was entered in Dramatic Declamation. The three judges each round would judge the White contestants at Classen and then be driven to Douglas to judge Thompson. An editor of the local African American newspaper protested the arrangement. The student said he would rather withdraw than be segregated. Mr. Jacob’s policy was that the local host arranged local events, but the National Forensic League ran the tournament. Mr. Jacob was firm. Thompson would compete at Classen. Thompson did, and won the event. In 1938, Mr. Jacob convened the first National Student Congress. It was well received and became a regular event. The League’s motto was, “Training Youth for Leadership” and youth congresses were ideal learning laboratories. The 1941 National Tournament featured a speech contest entitled “Americanism.” Six months later America entered World War II. No tournaments were held during the war years. The National Congress convened in 1942 (praised in a letter from President Roosevelt), 1943, and 1944. Students could earn points by community and patriotic speaking. In 1945, there were four regional contests in Extempore, and a national final at Northwestern University. In 1946, Extempore, Oratory, Oratorical, Dramatic, and Humorous regional contests were held; finals were held at Northwestern again. No debate was allowed. After the war, some academics felt debate had become too competitive; students should be taught cooperative methods of problem solving. The National Association of Secondary School Principals Contest and Activities Committee effectively ended debate at the National Tournament by ruling “approval was not accorded any contest involving interstate travel of more than one student from any state.” Thus, two-person debate was eliminated! Mr. Jacob, a former debater, a man devoted to debate, did not give up. Working with Professor Karl Robinson of Northwestern University, he successfully persuaded the NASSP Committee about the academic values of debate. Debate returned at the 1950 Nationals. But victory came at a cost. To make room for the return of Debate, Oratorical and Humorous Declamation were dropped from the tournament. (Humorous returned in 1977.) In the post-war years, Mr. Jacob worked tirelessly to build the League. He traveled more than 20,000 miles each year, mostly by car, to award plaques, visit tournaments, and convince schools about the benefits of joining the League. Hall of Fame Coach Arlene Akerman recalls, “I was so impressed that Bruno came to Fairmont-East [OH] to present our NFL Charter. The administration was also impressed. Bruno had a persuasive power that was outstanding.” Always organized, Bruno had several kinds of speeches prepared for his high school appearances. Depending on the time and place allowed by the local principal, the speeches ranged from a two-minute announcement over the school PA system, to longer and different speeches for an after-school meeting of the speech club, an all-school assembly, and a pep rally! By 1950 his NFL work was so time consuming, Professor Jacob resigned his teaching position at Ripon College to administer the League full time. In 1950, the NFL published an elegant book which chronicled the first quarter century. The past was ornately celebrated, but the best was yet to come! The Depression, WWII travel restrictions, and the decision of the NASSP to eliminate debate had taken its toll on the NFL. Chapters numbered 480 in 1938 and only 532 a dozen years later. The 122 qualifiers at the 1950 National Tournament was 16 fewer than the first Nationals, and only one-third of the 365 entries in 1936. But there were a large and growing number of affiliate schools, waiting for a Charter. The coming post-war baby boom would produce more and more students and schools. Bruno Jacob and the NFL had powerful friends. NFL member number one, Karl Mundt, was now a Senator; Bruno stood on the rear portico of the White House to confer NFL membership on former Texas debate coach President Lyndon Johnson. Bruno worked with Network radio stars like Ted Malone. After the 1939 Beverly Hills Nationals, Hollywood personalities became NFL supporters. In 1957, the Congress of the United States decreed that the Bicentennial of the Birth of Alexander Hamilton would be celebrated with a student Constitutional Convention of State and Territorial Speech Champions. Bruno Jacob, his son Richard, and the NFL staff were selected to manage the event in Congress Hall, part of the Independence Hall Memorial in Philadelphia. Bruno continued his peripatetic travel schedule. He preferred to drive on scenic byways, rather than interstate highways, so he could visit as much of the country as possible. He devised the hobby of visiting every county seat in America and sending himself a postcard from each one. Donus Roberts recalls that Mr. Jacob visited a forensic event in Watertown, SD and was delighted to visit one of the finest county courthouses in the USA. Bruno’s younger son, Richard, confirms that indeed “[Bruno] did complete the task of visiting every one (of more than 3,100) U.S. county seats, including Alaska and Hawaii… Some counties changed the location of their county seat, and he actually made subsequent trips to pick up the new location.” Mr. Jacob was quite irritated when the U.S. Postal Service began using generic postmarks on mail, instead of the postmark of the town sending it. He would return the postcard without the local cancellation to the town postmaster, to be hand canceled with the local postmark. Bruno faced financial problems at the 1963 National Tournament at Rice University in Houston. Wealthy Oveta Culp Hobby, publisher of the Houston Post, had pledged the money to support the tournament, but at the last minute withdrew her offer. Bruno was very reluctant about seeking or accepting sponsors. But at the 1968 Macalester College Nationals in Minnesota, the Reader’s Digest Foundation sponsored the tournament and more. They took the winners on a tour of Europe! Lila and DeWitt Wallace, owners of Reader’s Digest, were supporters of Macalester College. Mr. Jacob became good friends with the Wallaces and often visited their home in Pleasantville, NY. Their foundations offered to sponsor the National Tournament every year. At that time, the Digest, with the largest circulation of any magazine in the world, was hugely profitable and the Foundation was well funded. One board member was Melvin Laird, former Wisconsin Congressman, and friend of Bruno and NFL President Senator Karl Mundt. Alas, the sponsorship lasted only three years. Mr. Jacob’s successor refused to fly or drive yearly to Pleasantville, which was necessary to retain this valuable sponsorship. Bruno Jacob was the most modest of men. When asked to provide material for an article about himself, he always replied, “Make it short, very short.” He kept his salary low and NFL expenses low. Executive Councils often offered to raise his salary, but he declined. When traveling, Bruno usually stayed in private homes of NFL coaches, and was treated like an honored guest. Mr. Jacob was 70 years old in 1969. His retirement was poignant. Mr. Jacob always hoped one of his sons would succeed him; they each had worked at Nationals. But both his sons wished to pursue other careers. Robert, the eldest, received his degree in Physics and worked at Livermore Labs on Atomic Energy projects. He would later earn an MBA and work for IBM. The younger son, Richard, would earn a Ph.D. in Physics and teach Physics and Computer Science at three colleges. Bruno retired with great fanfare and honor. He was presented a new car and a trip around the world. His Speech of Farewell, quoted in part in the Hall of Fame Essay, had people in tears. The tournament was in Washington, D.C., where Senator Mundt and many prominent NFL alumni appeared. Bruno seemed happy as Secretary-Emeritus. He came to the office every day as he had for years: helping to record points, audit district tournament results, and help plan the National Tournament. Ripon College needed space in Middle Hall and the NFL had to move. The Council sent Mr. Jacob to California and elsewhere to raise money from alumni and friends to purchase a headquarters. Bruno Jacob was a brilliant man. Although born in the 19th century, he had the mind and vision of a 21st century entrepreneur. He seized on an idea and built a thing of value that still serves thousands of students almost a century later. And the students always appreciated what Bruno built for them. The great Illinois debate coach George Stege remembers: “Mr. Jacob came to Glenbrook South High School to give a Leading Chapter Award at a morning pep assembly. After the athletic introductions and cheers, Bruno delivered a dynamic speech about the success of the NFL Chapter and presented the award to the principal. A student in the audience yelled, ‘Three cheers for Bruno!’ The audience erupted with cheers!” National champion coach David Johnson concludes, “Thinking of Bruno reminds me of ‘Mr. Chips’—he is really that modest man, who works tirelessly because he believes in the next generation…. The song they sing after Chips has died ends, ‘was I brave enough and true?’” Bruno Jacob was brave enough and true enough to give his life to the NFL, and ask little in return. — Compiled by James Copeland