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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Supply Planning Part One, Clothing and Dress Codes

In his eighth column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the inside track on the world of coaching, Coach Rick Dorn writes about supply planning. In the first of a multiple-part series, he takes on the challenge of clothing and dress codes.

New Coaches 411 Column #8

Supply Planning Part One: Clothing and Dress Codes

Welcome! I don't know about you, but my season is mostly over. We just have Nationals left in June, so the daily practices and the weekend meets are over for the time being. I hope your seasons went well, and I hope you can now get some rest and rejuvenation. As the season winds down, most coaches take stock of how the season went and what should be changed for the next season. I like to use this time to think about what things I used and what supplies need to be replenished. So, let’s talk about supplies.

Every team will need to budget accordingly for supplies. Some supplies are obvious, but I guarantee that you will forget things when it comes time to start ordering/buying. I will try to list things for you to consider, but I will probably forget things too. Please let me know of supplies I may not have remembered, so I can add them to the list.

Let’s begin with clothing. In a perfect world, the students would take care of their own clothing needs, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Not every student will have parents willing to invest in clothing, so we as coaches end up helping out. Simple dress clothes are a necessity in the debate world. I double as the drama director at my school, so I stock up with donations and search out used clothing stores. If your school does a Rachel’s closet, check in there. Check out local Goodwill and consignment type stores, and keep basic dress shirts - especially sports jackets or suit coats. Some teams prefer everyone to wear a suit, but that will add to the cost. I have a rather large collection of ties, and I keep discarded ones in the debate closet for any students that may need one. Shoes are also tricky to get. If you have space, you can buy simple dress shoes at those same secondhand stores. You will have to store a large assortment of sizes. Most of my students have a pair of dress pants and dress shoes, so you can decide if you want to commit that much storage space to those kinds of items. Another possible site for reasonable prices on dress clothes is eBay. You can find really nice clothes and dress shoes for a fraction of the price. For the young women on your team, they can use a simple pantsuit or a dress. Some judges prefer the lawyer look of a blazer and a pencil skirt, so again, finding smaller sport coats that could fit your females is extremely helpful.

Dress code is a tricky issue. I would highly recommend your boys wear dress shoes of some kind, as we’ve had a student drop a ballot because he was wearing tennis shoes with his suit. Stupid? Absolutely! But if you can avoid that annoying RFD, do it. I’ve also seen students ranked down for not wearing a tie. For some reason, Interpretive competitors are often able to get away with a more casual look than the debaters, so be careful. For your young women, we run into a whole other world of trouble. If they dress like lawyers with the skirt and the blouse with a blazer, they could have judges commenting on skirt length. If they wear a nice blouse with pants, they could have judges commenting on low-cut shirts. I don’t know the correct answer. As a male school teacher, I have learned to not mention things because of concern at being accused of “looking.” If you have a female coach, they can try to broach the subject, but again, it can go very badly. I’ve even had upperclassmen help with this. Diplomacy is the key. In particular, I would warn interpretive competitors to plan according to the blocking. A female competitor rolling around in a duet scene while in a pencil skirt will have problems. One of the most modest students I ever knew had a very nice silk blouse that covered her completely. While performing an energetic humorous duo, her blouse apparently fell while crouching, and she had a judge fuss on her ballot about her immodest clothing. Personally, I would have preferred the judge focus on the performance instead of accidentally revealing clothing, but I can promise you, we worked to fix the blouse issue before the next meet.

For my team, I stress following the school dress code, but our school is pretty lax compared to some. I've also learned that some schools barely follow a dress code at all. I’ve seen students from other schools wear miniskirts and crop tops/tube tops, but it’s taking a risk. I have definitely seen judges make comments on ballots and make it their RFD. When it comes down to your team, you have to use your best judgment. Ask for advice from your fellow coaches to see what’s acceptable in your area. Good luck!

Next month, I will talk about other supplies you need. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have a great month!

If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at

Till next time,

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 and has coached numerous students to national competition.


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