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NEW COACH 411: Rick Dorn's Final Column - Middle School Speech and Debate

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column 32 - the final column, Coach Rick Dorn explores possibilities for Speech and Debate at the middle school level. Thank you so much to Coach Dorn for all of his hard work, dedicated writing, and shared knowledge on New Coach 411! Be sure to give Rick ( some love if the column has been helpful for you!

New Coach 411 - Column 32, FINAL COLUMN

May 2024 Article

Hello everyone!  I hope your season went well!  This has been fun for me, but after 32 columns, I feel I’m starting to repeat myself.  There are only so many pieces of advice you can offer to new coaches, so this will be my last column.  I appreciate those of you who stayed with me for the ride and I hope some of it was helpful.  A special thank you to One Clap and Lyle Wiley for allowing me to pontificate these past three years!  

This last column, I’d like to focus on a new area (at least for me!) - Middle School!  Yes, I know many places have had middle school speech and debate.  I coached a middle school team in areas such as Poetry and Prose when I taught in Texas, so I know it exists. Here in Wyoming, it is an underserved population. Only a handful of schools offer it here, and I was privileged to start one this year at my school.  

Our time commitment was very limited.  Middle school students are squirrelly and many other activities conflicted.  This is the age where they want to try everything, so you may start out strong and have them thin out.  I started with about 15, and I only had the majority of them for thirty minutes a week due to play rehearsal conflicts.  By the end, I had about 5, and church stuff and swimming took most of the rest away.  We tried to host small meets for them to compete, and we did it on one day during a home meet, and that way, my high school competitors provided my judging for them. It worked very well, and I was pleased with the results.

For prizes, we bought cheap trinkets and the middle school students loved them.  I didn’t want to cheapen the high school prizes so we made sure to keep them separate and different.  We also, as a region, chose to simplify the times and event offerings.  We did a single debate with shortened times and a simple topic.  If you want to start a middle school team, find out if the area has any already going, and then you can work with other coaches to do something similar.  

I volunteered to do this to see how it worked, and so I wasn’t paid for this year.  I had them come over to the high school and I used high school students to help coach them. High school students generally love this kind of coaching, and it’s good for them.  My district loved what we did, and we made sure to talk to them about the limitations of doing both high school and middle school simultaneously.  Our district agreed to create a position for next year of a middle school coach so that new person can work around the middle school students’ schedules, and have more practice time.  We plan on getting the new coach to travel with us a bit so we can have extra adults on our trips.  This has been a really good experience for us, and I hope it builds enthusiasm for our high school team in the future.

I am excited to see what the future holds, and I wish you the best of luck!  May your students be successful, and may you get some rest!  See you at Nationals!

Rick Dorn

Worland High School

Biography: Rick Dorn is a two diamond coach who has been teaching some kind of speech or theatre since 1992. He has been named Wyoming 3A Coach of the Year twice, Wind River District Communicator of the Year, and has coached numerous students to national competition.


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