A few thoughts about HS speech & debate

(Me, far left, with the eight Revere High School students we took to the OHSSL State Championships in March 2016. One, Drew Espinal, is now a freshman at Johns Hopkins University. The others seven students are back this year. Phillip King, principal and big program supporter, is at far right.)

STUDENTS:  You MUST bookmark and visit our “sign out” site for tournaments here:


(HELP BY DOING THIS — Your coaches cannot keep track of 35+ students’ schedules)

When I first learned nearly nine years ago that some Ohio high schools offered speech and debate programs, my first thought was: “Why not my school?” At that time, “my” was Brecksville-Broadview Hts. (BBHHS). I knew how strong academically BBHHS was, and believed students there could do well if taught speech/debate basics.

My Wabash College debate team was the most rewarding extracurricular activity in college. I learned how to think in depth on subjects, and how to present contentions strategically, reinforce my own arguments and to rebut those of my opponents. It made me a better, more informed student during my years at Wabash. It helped me graduate with honors.

Fast forward more than 30 years. I approached Brian Wilch (now the principal at Hudson), and asked, “Could we do speech and debate?”  Brian’s answer was short, simple and strong.  “Yes. John, could you lead it up for us?”

I thought about it, talked it over with my son (then a BBHHS sophomore) and wife, and prayed about it. Believing it was worth the effort, I met again with Brian. Soon we began.

In October 2008, eight brave BBHHS students competed in the Cleveland District of the Ohio High School Speech League’s Novice Tournament. We eventually grew to around 14 students that first year. Two terrific parents came alongside to assist, Mark McCandless and Dr. Lloyd Yeh. Vicki Balzer, now at Magnificat High School, gave Mark and me “how to” start-up advice. We had two qualifiers for the State tournament that first season.

Since then, what’s happened at BBHHS with speech and debate is simply amazing. Today the program has about 40 members. Mark McCandless and his assistants are doing a superb job with the students. About 50 students there have qualified for State Championships in the past eight years.

More importantly, former speech/debate competitors from BBHHS are now attending or graduating from Harvard, Chicago, Vanderbilt, William & Mary, Washington (St. Louis), Penn, and other terrific colleges and universities.  We – the other parent leaders and I – learned that participating in speech/debate helped give these students an advantage in the college admissions process.

I led BBHHS for three years, then relinquished the reins but stayed on to assist three more years. I met many dedicated coaches, including  Tony Paparella of Revere HS. Revere once had a phenomenal speech/debate program in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, then it had died out. Tony, who did speech and debate when he was a student at Revere, revived the program when his own sons attended HS. Like me, he did this on a volunteer basis. He later convinced the Revere Schools board to allocate funds for speech/debate, and to pay a stipend for a coach.

I’d decided to leave BBHHS in 2013-14. I was studying for an advanced degree at Kent State University. At my last state coaches’ meeting (so I thought), Linda Miller, director of the state speech league, made a brief but passionate plea about a coach for Revere.  “The program is down to five students, and there’s no one to lead it,” she said.

I called Tony. He told me that he had stepped down for business reason, and no successor had lasted. Next thing I knew, Revere HS Principal Phillip King called me. He and I met, and soon Revere offered me the position of speech/debate adviser there. More thinking and praying was next. This wouldn’t help me in my studies at Kent State, but I’d witnessed the huge difference participation in this activity made in the lives of students. Revere’s support for the program was also impressive. So I said yes.

What a blessing these past three years have been.

It was hard at first. I got to know the teachers and the system at Revere. The faculty and a very powerful academic program helped. So did two student families. One was James White, a 2015 Revere graduate, and his mom Marie. They saw the benefits of this program and dedicated time and effort to helping it grow. The other assistance came from the Espinal family, especially Alexis (2015 graduate), Drew (2016 graduate) and their parents, Drs. Susan and Eric Espinal. They are unbelievably supportive.

We have grown steadily at Revere. Last year we had four State Championship qualifiers, 9th grader Melise Williams, sophomores Leah Espinal and Megan Warburton, and junior Anthony Pignataro. Anthony then surprised a lot of people (including himself) by becoming the Eastern Ohio District L-D debate champion of NSDA, the National Speech and Debate Association. He competed in the National Championships in Utah in June.

We had 18 students in speech/debate just two years ago. We are double that size this year. We have three terrific college student assistants: Ammar Abidi, David Burnett, and Noah Paulsen, helping out.  We will compete well against other schools in the Akron District and all over Ohio.

But success at tournaments is a side benefit of being part of speech debate. What students gain prepares them for college and beyond. They learn to:

  • Think critically – Anyone can toss an opinion on a social media site, but Revere students in speech and debate master how to analyze and “go deep” on topics and understand them excellently.
  • Communicate effectively – One can’t summarize debate or speech down to 140 characters. We build speaking skills. We learn to speak with room-filling energy. Debaters learn how to “build up, then narrow down” arguments. Individual Event speakers put passion and emotion into their speeches.
  • Live humanely – Our world is becoming ever-more shrill and uncivil. Revere students in speech and debate are thoughtful, articulate voices of compassion, of reason and purpose.

That’s just some of the benefits of speech/debate. New Revere student and parents – get ready to grow. Thank you, Revere Schools, for supporting this excellent opportunity for your students.

The 2016-2017 schedule is below:  Dates in BOLD ITALIC are Middle School events also.

REVERE HIGH SCHOOL     DATE                                                                             JUDGES NEEDED

October 8-9                        POSSIBLE – Georgetown (PF and Congress only)

October 22                          Novice at Glen Oak                                                           (NONE NEEDED)

October 29                         at Edison                                                                                              (EIGHT)

November 5                       Laurel                                                                                                    (EIGHT)

November 12                    Brecksville Broadview Heights                                                         (EIGHT)

November 19                    Copley                                                                                                  (EIGHT)
Selected returnees – Might go to Glenbrooks in NW Chicago
December 3                       Olmsted Falls  (one of locations for State tourney)           (EIGHT)
Selected returnees –Princeton (Dec. 2-3-4, via Bus, with Medina)

December 10                     Vermilion                                                                                                 (EIGHT)

December 17                     Stow Monroe Falls                                                                          (EIGHT)

January 7                             North Canton Hoover                                                                    (EIGHT)

January 14                           Wooster                                                                                              (EIGHT)

January 21                           Norton                                                                                                 (EIGHT)

January 28                           Solon (Open date in Akron and Canton)                                  (EIGHT)

February 4                          OHSSL Akron “Littles” at Wadsworth                                       (EIGHT)
This is the main State Qualifier tournament

February 10-11                  Possible National Circuit Tournament

February 17-18                  Eastern Ohio “Bigs” at Copley                                                     (FOUR)
This is the secondary State Qualifier Tournament

March 3-4                            OHSSL States at Berea/Midpark and Olmsted Falls            TBD

March 11                             State Novice / Middle School States at Medina                  TBD
This is also a Statewide Middle School Tournament

March 25                             Eastern Ohio “Congress Bigs” at Our Lady of the Elms

April 29                                “Big Questions” Debate at REVERE HS!
Student Leaders: Anthony Pignataro, President; Leah Espinal and Megan Warburton, Vice Presidents; Grace Cao, Secretary; Melise Williams, Troy Pierson andEmily Albert, practice captains

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: