[A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Marie Dzuris has been involved in speech and debate for over 40 years, both as a competitor and a coach. She debated and participated in individual speech events in both high school and college. Marie spent most of my career teaching and coaching in high school at Centerville High School in Ohio, where she coached both Policy and Public Forum debate, speech, and Mock Trial. Throughout the years, Marie coached many of the nation’s most competitive teams, and she was elected to the Tournament of Champions Hall of Fame in 2009. She is also a member of the TOC’s Hall of Distinguished Service. Marie spent 24 years teaching various speech classes and debate classes for all students – not just those on the competitive teams. And she was also the Middle School girls basketball coach. She made it her life’s work because she believes there is nothing more important for anyone than communication and critical thinking skills.]
March 5, 2011 was a red letter day for me – it would be the last time I coached a policy debate team as a competitive – all in – debate coach. It was the Ohio High School Speech and Debate state tournament. It was particularly important because after this round Centerville Debate would move 100% to public forum – my entire debate career as a competitor and coach had been with policy debate. I reminded the students they deserved to be there, that they had done the work and were capable of beating this team, and that Darren Smith and I would be proud of them, no matter the outcome of the round. And with that, it was done. I moved on to other things: continued coaching middle school basketball, lent a hand to some of our extempers and public forum debaters, helped a friend with her team, bought a house and got a dog (then 2 dogs and now back to 1). Although I have reflected on various parts of my debate life over the years, I have never sat down, until now, and reflected on it all. What follows are my thoughts and my experiences.
What does debate do for students: I realize, for most people reading this, I am preaching to the choir – you get it – debate is good. Nevertheless, I think it is worth the time to put it on paper.
- Debate is unique from other competitive activities in one very important way – you don’t have to be good to get the benefits. The very act of debating teaches you how to speak in public, how to organize your thoughts, how to research, how to make claims and warrants, how to look someone in the eye when you speak, how to win and lose with grace, how to be a team member and work with a partner (whether you like them or not), and how to LISTEN – an incredibly important skill when having a discussion in any venue.
- Debate gives students confidence in who they are as people. It is a critical factor in their education of life and will help drive the path they will take to adulthood and beyond.
- Debate gives them friendships they will have for life – trust me!!
- Debate shows them how to give back – to younger members on the team, to causes they take up because of debate, to other programs while they are in college, etc. It is through debate that they learn the key concept of kindergarten – sharing is good.
What has debate done for me?
First of all, debate saved me. I spent most of my growing up years in a dysfunctional household where I was told over and over that I was worth nothing, that I didn’t matter, that I would never make it in life. Debate gave me a safe place and a chance to learn that none of those things were true. My high school debate coach, Judy Woodring and her husband (my Pops) became (and still are to this day) my second parents. Without their encouragement, unending support that continues to this day, and their patience in helping me find my way, I have no idea of the path I might have taken.
Besides the important emotional support, debate, slowly over time, gave me the tools that would shape my life forever: confidence that I was smart and could learn; the ability to make my voice heard; public speaking skills; my major in Economics; teaching at debate workshops – which made me a better coach, teacher, and person; my eventual career; and a fierce competitiveness that has served me well in a variety of circumstances.
Without a doubt, one of the single best by products of debate is the personal relationships I have developed, both as a competitor and a coach. As a coach, I have met so many students – both my own debaters and those from others schools, many of whom are still an important part of my life. But, overwhelmingly , the best part – the deep deep friendships that have come from those who have crossed my path as a teammate or a coaching colleague.
I have long subscribed to the belief that you cannot choose your relatives but you can choose those you call family. I am very lucky to have an extended family that spans the US and beyond. It is from these “family” members I have learned to be a better coach and teacher, and more importantly, a better person. It is from them I have learned that competition is good but must be kept in perspective. It is from them I learned that people care and that caring is given regardless of what happens in competition. It is from a number of them that I have learned when people say “I will always be there for you” they mean it.
I have known Darren Smith, my cohort in crime at Centerville, since he was a freshman in high school. I met him, his sister, and his eventual brother-in-law when I was coaching at Upper Arlington in Columbus. Although neither one of us is still coaching debate (he now coaches soccer), our friendship remains as strong as ever. It now includes his wife and their 3 boys (we have made it a habit to go out to lunch once a month to give them a break from mom and dad J ). It is not an exaggeration to say that without Darren’s love and support, I certainly would not be where I am now – that includes as a person in general and as a distance runner. From him I learned: debate is good.
A few months ago, my brother passed away. By his choice, I was not particularly close to him. But, because I am the last of my immediate family, it was left to me to take care of arrangements and clean out his apartment. When I called one of those friends I mentioned above and told him what happened, he did not ask what can I do, he did not say well let me know if you need anything. Instead he said, when are you arriving in Austin. I will clear my schedule and we will get it done. From him I learned: debate is good.
The list is endless – so many friends whose names belong here. From all of them I learned, not only that debate it good, but that people are good.
Highlights of my career
There have been many but let me share a few.
- My first year, after taking over as the head coach at Upper Arlington, I had a debater who joined as a sophomore. A number of his friends were on the team. At the time, when he talked to me, he looked at his feet. I thought: “I wonder how long he will last.” Before every tournament his sophomore year, he went to the bathroom and puked. I thought: “I wonder if he will return.” He debated for 3 years and won one little trophy. But by the end of those three years, he looked me in the eye when he talked and went on to have a career in broadcasting. He learned debate is good and I learned trophies do not matter.
- Winning MBA when Henry Liu was so sick with the flu that he slept the entire way home and then missed the next 4 days of school. Where that 2ar came from, I will never know.
- Two of my students winning the Julia Burke award at TOC. I was so proud because it rewarded them for being great people, not just great debaters.
- Speeches from seniors at our end of the year banquets – the emotion they showed me was overwhelming.
- The last time I high fived my debaters before going into that round at the state tournament (I long had the tradition of high fiving each team after we were done coaching for every debate).
If you are reading this as you try to decide if you should debate or coach – go for it – it would be the best decision of your life. If you are a current coach or debater, remember the values of the activity and continue to pass it on. You matter to the next generation of debaters.
Most importantly, remember: Debate is good!! And, oh yeah, we won that debate