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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: It’s All About the Benjamins

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

In his third column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching, Coach Rick Dorn discusses the struggles and joys of fundraising for forensics programs.

It’s All About the Benjamins

Welcome new coaches! So far, we have talked about recruitment and the basics for getting started as a speech and debate coach. Today, we discuss the basics of funding speech and debate.

Every school handles funding of extracurricular activities differently. I’ll go over the basics of what to find out before you begin your coaching assignment. Confirming these details will make your life happier and your season more peaceful.

First, you will want to find out how the money works in your district/school. Check with a principal or activities/athletic director to learn if you have a supply budget, travel budget, food budget, entry fee budget, and more. Some schools provide aspects of each (and if you’re really lucky, all of the above!). For supplies, you will need money to buy proper materials, such as binders, competition pieces, debate evidence databases, etc. My own supply budget is just enough to pick one major debate evidence source for the team to use. Anything extra has to come out of my student club account (money we have raised via fundraisers, meets, etc.)

Most schools provide transportation, so you’ll want to see how that is done. Hopefully, your district pays for the bus and driver. Some districts will want you to be the driver, so you’ll need to check that out early. If your district does NOT pay for that, you’ll want to plan accordingly because the bus/driver cost is substantial.

Food budgets are sometimes provided to pay for student/coach meals at meets. Many districts do NOT pay for that, so find that out early. If they do not, you will want to plan how to feed students. The optimal choice is to have students provide their own food. In a perfect world, that can happen, but on a two day trip, be aware of students not eating. I have consistently had students whose parents did not provide food for their weekend competition. I will either pay for it myself, or use club funds to buy some basics for the team to make sure no one goes hungry. $10 to make sure no one is starving is a small price to pay for ease of mind.

I have also known of schools that are really creative and bring crock pots/microwaves to heat up food for their students. Some will have parent groups divide up the weekend trips to provide food to be available for students from week to week. A big cooler is a good investment to bring with you to meets.

If your district does provide money for food, memorize the daily allowed amount per student. It is shocking how fast the money is spent when you take a group of 20 students to McDonald’s. The per diem can be stretched if you have extra flexibility. For example, I use pizza for an option for lunches because of the easy delivery and because I can feed my kids for less. Be sure to ask for the school discount from pizza places. For dinner, I will try to send a coach to pick up food in bulk. For example, I can buy 10 burgers, 10 chicken sandwiches, and 20 fries for 10 students far cheaper and easier than taking the group through the restaurant line. Also, I buy drinks in bulk at the grocery store. That alone saves an incredible amount of money. My AD loves how I have leftover money after every trip because I bring in food in bulk. Time for some math: if a student has $9 per dinner, and you take the group to the fast food place, they will spend $4+ on a sandwich, $2 on a side, $2 on a drink. High school students are notorious for forgetting that tax and tip are a thing. If you have 20 students who spend $9 each, you have spent the entirety of your $180 allowable amount. If I go without the group to McDonald’s, I can shop from the dollar menu and pick up 10 burgers, 10 chicken sandwiches, and 20 fries, I have usually spent $80 bucks total. I also can use my school’s tax exempt number and not pay sales tax. Then I swing by the grocery store and buy 2 or 3 12 packs of drinks for $20 dollars. I have fed my students and had leftovers, and I have saved $80 for the district.

For entry fees, find out what your allowable amount is. Some schools provide a lump sum which you must dole out over the season. Some schools do not provide anything. You will want to try fundraising if that is the case. Let’s be honest, you’ll probably need to fundraise no matter what. Clever budgeting is necessary to make sure you have money available at the end. It is harsh, but if you have a student who is not working hard and trying to improve, you might want to have that student skip a few meets to save money.

Activities Directors often don’t understand how speech fees work. In the sports world, the teams go to each other’s events as an exchange and little money changes hands. In the speech world, you pay per entry so the host school can pay for food, rooms, tabulation software, and even judges. It would be extremely difficult to do a quid pro quo in the speech world. Because of that, hosting meets can be a vital method of raising funds for your team. In a future column, we will discuss the pros and cons of hosting a meet.

Unfortunately, the financial side of being a coach is one of the more frustrating aspects of speech and debate. By using care and planning, you can make whatever funds you have available work for you! As always, email me at if you have questions!

Till next time,

Rick Dorn

Worland High

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 and has coached numerous students to national competition.


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