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2015-16 Speech, Debate and Theatre Association Educator Awards Selected

By NFHS on July 12, 2016 hst Print

The NFHS Speech, Debate and Theatre Association has selected 21 individuals to receive the 2015-16 Outstanding Speech, Debate and Theatre Educator Awards.

The Speech Advisory Committee selected the recipients based on their significant contributions to high school speech, debate and theatre activities. The awards recognize outstanding high school speech, debate and theatre directors/coaches. This year, seven individuals were section winners and 14 were state winners.



Section 2 – Carl Grecco (Pennsylvania)

Carl Grecco was hired by the Bristol Township (Pennsylvania) School District in the Fall of 1962. During his first year of teaching, he was the assistant director of the drama program at Woodrow Wilson High school (name changed to Harry S Truman HS in 1982) and was later asked to take over the school’s debate and forensics program. Grecco retired from the classroom in 1998 but continues to coach at the school.

In 1965, Grecco was appointed to the executive board of the Pennsylvania High School Speech League (PHSSL) and has served on that board for more than 35 years. Grecco played a part in scheduling the state tournament, refining rules for various events and tabulating sweepstakes. He was inducted into the PHSSL Hall of Fame in 1991.

In addition to being active in PHSSL, Grecco has served on the committee of the Valley Forge District of the National Forensic League for 30 years, has been the treasurer of the Philadelphia Catholic Forensic League since 1977 and is the President of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Debate League.

Through his many awards and recognition, Grecco says his most personal of achievements is the vast number of students he has coached who have gone on to become successful professionals and coaches.

Section 3 – Raphael Scott Waldrop (Mississippi)

Raphael Waldrop has had a 32-year career in speech, debate and theatre. Waldrop has served as moderator of the Biloxi (Mississippi) Catholic Forensic League for 10 years and was the recipient of the 2013 Dick Gaudete Service Award from the National Catholic Forensic League.

As a former high school congressional debater, who represented Mississippi at the John C. Stennis National NFL Congress, Waldrop served as the executive director of the Mississippi Youth Congress for seven years and served as the director of the John C. Stennis Novice Invitational on the campus of Mississippi State University for the past seven years.

Waldrop is the only coach in the country to have had two students named National Speech and Debate Association Student of the Year (2010, 2015) and was presented the Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Service Award. Waldrop has served on the NFHS Speech Committee.

Section 4 – Thomas Witting (Illinois)

Thomas Witting has had a 30-year career in education, most of which have been spent at Reavis High School in Burbank, Illinois. Witting began his career at Queen of Peace High School (also in Burbank) and Memorial Junior High School in Lansing, Illinois. In 2000, Witting took a different career path and became the director of special programs, which he still holds today. As the director of special programs, Witting is the student activities director, director of school and community relations and the school-wide assembly and event planner.

Witting has directed two state championships in drama and several Illinois High School Association (IHSA) regional and sectional championships.

With the assistance of his colleagues, Witting has hosted more than 50 South Inter-Conference Association (SICA), Student Sustainability Committee (SSC) and IHSA regional and sectional speech, drama, and group interpretation tournaments, while also serving on all of these committees. For more than 15 years, Witting has been a member of the IHSA State Drama committee and is currently on the IHSA State Speech Committee.

Section 5 – Dr. Josh Anderson (Kansas)

Dr. Josh Anderson has been an educator for 19 years. Anderson started teaching speech and debate in 1997 at Basehor-Linewood (Kansas) High School. In 2003, Anderson took a head speech and debate coach position at Olathe Northwest School District, where he’s been since.

In addition to his work as a teacher and coach, Anderson hosts state debate and speech events for the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) and has served on several state and national committees, boards and leadership roles.

In 2007, Anderson received the Kansas Teacher of the Year award and was a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year award. Anderson was inducted into the Mid-American Educational Hall of Fame and the Kansas Debate Coaches’ Hall of Fame. In 2015, Anderson won the National Speech and Debate Association’s National Coach of the Year.

Section 6 – J. Scott Baker (Texas)

Scott Baker began his career in 1997 as a communications applications teacher and speech coach at Haltom High School in Fort Worth, Texas. In 2000, Baker was hired as the speech and debate teacher and coach in the Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston. At Cypress Creek High School, Baker coached 14 National Speech and Debate Association qualifiers and 19 University Interscholastic League (UIL) Regional qualifiers.

At Cypress Ridge High School, Baker coached 12 UIL District Champions, four Texas State Champions and 20 National Forensic League National qualifiers. At Jersey Village High School, The Texas State University graduate coached five UIL Regional qualifiers and one National Forensic League National qualifiers.

Baker is currently a member of the Texas Speech Communication Association, a coach for the Texas Forensic Association and the National Forensic League. In 2015, Baker was named a Three Diamond Coach by the National Speech and Debate Association. 

Section 7 – Cassie Alber (Arizona)

Cassie Alber’s career in education began when she was asked by her high school speech and debate coach to be his assistant while she attended college. After she graduated college, Alber took over her own speech program at Sioux City (Iowa) North High School in 1995. In 1997, Alber took two students to the Minneapolis Nationals. One year later, Alber was hired by Desert Vista High School in Tempe, Arizona. In 1999, Alber was nominated as one of the 5A representatives for the Arizona Speech and Debate Committee.

After her time at Desert Vista, Alber moved to Mesquite High School and took a 10-year hiatus from speech and debate to get married and start a family. In 2009, Alber’s break ended when seven of her honors students approached her about being a “sponsor” for the team, which quickly turned into returning as head coach. Since 2009, Alber’s team has grown from 12 to 45. In 2012, Alber had four National qualifiers.

Over the past five years, Alber has been a secretary for the 5A Arizona Speech and Debate Committee and an Arizona National Forensic League committee member.

Section 8 – Jennifer LeSieur (Oregon)

Jennifer LeSieur competed in speech and debate through high school and college. Attending Ricks College (Idaho), LeSieur won a national championship in cross examination debate association (CEDA) debate. After graduating, LeSieur took various jobs and started a family before putting herself through school and graduating with a masters in teaching.

For the past 12 years, LeSieur has been an english and speech teacher, as well as the speech and debate coach, at Clackamas (Oregon) High School. In Her first year of coaching, LeSieur was elected secretary of the Oregon High School Speech League Leadership committee.

In 2012, LeSieur was named Optimist International Outstanding Teacher and Coach of the year, Golden Apple Teaching Award in 2014 and the 2015 Oregon Speech Educator of the Year.

Elerth Arntson – North Dakota

Elerth Arnston participated in speech, theatre and debate throughout junior high school, high school and college. Arnston began his acting and directing career in the 1970s at the Fargo/Morehead (North Dakota) Community Theater. From 1990 to 2000, Arnston taught beginning acting lessons for Shade Tree Players, a children’s theatre program. In 2004, Arnston was inducted into the Dakota Stage Limited Hall of Fame.

Arnston returned to school at Minot State University (North Dakota) to earn an education degree. After graduating, Arnston was hired to coach the speech team at St. Mary’s Central High School (SMCHS). In Arnston’s first year of coaching, SMCHS was named Western Dakota Association (WDA) Region Champions. In 2011, Arnston was named SMCHS teacher of the year.

In 2015, Arnston was inducted into the CSTAND Hall of Fame. Arnston was named WDA region speech coach of the year 10 times in 14 years of coaching and served seven years on the CSTAND Board of Directors, including a term as president.

Jody Batie – Oklahoma

Jody Batie has coached Haskell (Oklahoma) High School’s speech and debate team for the past nine years. During that time, Batie’s teams have had more than 150 members and has had his teams earn numerous awards such as state champions in speech and debate for the past five consecutive years, six-time northeast regional champion and had three team members compete at the national level.

Batie is on the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities State Speech Advisory Committee, is a two-time Haskell High School Teacher of the Year and the 2008 Oklahoma Speech Theatre Communication Association H.B. Mitchell High School Forensics Coach Award recipient.

Sara Berghoff – Indiana

Sara Berghoff is in her 10th year of teaching and coaching at Southport (Indiana) High School. Berghoff received her degree in speech and theatre education at Ball State University where she was a four-time National Forensics Association (NFA) national qualifier. As a teacher, Berghoff has taken classes to be a Google certified educator in order to make the content of speech relevant to students in her classroom.

Berghoff serves on the Indiana High School Forensics Association board as the membership outreach chair. She is an active coach in Indiana and the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA), and is on the District committee for the NSDA. 

Robin Christensen – Idaho

Robin Christensen has been a speech and debate coach for two years. Christensen’s experience with speech and debate started in high school, with four years of competition, as well as two years of competition on the National Championship team at Boise State University.

Before finding her home at Highland High School (Idaho), Christensen assisted at three different schools. The debate team Christensen coaches at Highland is in the Pentagon Society, which is the top 0.6% of all teams in the nation. At the 2015 National Speech and Debate Association Nationals, one of Christensen students won the National Championship title in impromptu speaking – the first time that an Idaho student has won a National Championship in speech or debate.

In 2015, Christensen was named the Idaho Speech Arts Teacher of the Year.

Aaron Dean – Iowa

Aaron Dean has worked at Dubuque (Iowa) Senior High School since receiving his speech and theatre education degree from Bradley University (Illinois) in 2004. Over the past 12 years at Dubuque Senior, Dean has served as the drama director and speech coach and is the secretary for the Iowa Thespian Board.

As a member of the Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA), Dean served as a Northeast District officer and has led numerous workshops at the IHSSA Conference. In 2015, Dean was one of the Dubuque Community School District’s Teacher of the Year finalists. 

Sara Given – Missouri

For the past 22 years, Sara Given has taught speech and theatre classes at Mexico (Missouri) High School (MHS). Given is also the head coach of the MHS speech and debate team and directs all of the theatre productions. In 2013, Given founded the “Jellybean Speech Olympics” program which was created to give performance opportunities for students with special needs.

As a longtime member of the Speech and Theatre Association of Missouri, Given has served on the board and as president (2001). Given is a member of the International Thespian Society and a Diamond coach in the National Speech and Debate Association. 

Callie Ham – Arkansas

Callie Ham has been a teacher at Bentonville (Arkansas) High School since 2007. During her time there, Ham has taught English, oral communications, forensics and debate. As a forensics and debate coach, Ham has coached winning individual entries in every competition event, instructed nine state champions and 14 National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) district champions.

Ham is a part of the Arkansas State Teachers Association and is executive director of the Arkansas Communication and Theatre Arts Association. In addition, Ham was the recipient of the NSDA Donus D. Robert Quad Ruby Coaching Award and the 2015 Bentonville High School Fine Arts Teacher of the Year.

Todd Hering – Minnesota

Todd Hering is in his 19th year teaching social studies at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Along with teaching, Hering is the head debate coach and an assistant speech coach. During his career as a coach and educator, Hering was a two-time Minnesota Debate Teachers Association Coach of the year and has coached 12 state debate champions, five state speech champions and five national speech champions.

In 2000, Hering co-founded the Classic Debate League which is dedicated to maximizing the educational benefits of interscholastic debate. Serving as the league director, he has provided students with debate opportunities that they may have not had.

Hering has served in numerous leadership positions – in addition to his work with the Classic Debate League – and currently serves as a member of the National Public Forum Debate Wording Committee. In the past, Hering served as president of the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association (MDTA) and is a proud recipient of the MDTA James Graupner Distinguished Service Award.

Ellen Howard – Oregon

Ellen Howard began as a speech coach at Bandon (Oregon) High School in 1998. Howard’s first team consisted of nine girls who began with no knowledge about speech, but ended up placing third at the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) state tournament. Since then, Howard’s teams have brought home three OSAA first place trophies, five second place, four third place and one fifth place. In addition, Howard has coached six state champions and coached 19 pieces that competed at the National Forensic League National Tournaments.

Throughout her coaching career, Howard has worked alongside Oregon speech coaches as a National Speech and Debate Chapter Committee person. This is the 10th year Howard has written grants to the Oregon Community Foundation for South Coast Speech Workshops she hosts in September. 

Duane Hyland – Virginia

Duane Hyland has been a speech and debate coach since 1987. He got his start volunteering with the team at Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Bishop McCort High School. Hyland has coached at multiple high schools throughout his career before ending up at Ashburn (Virginia) Broad Run High School and Burke (Virginia) Lake Braddock Secondary School in 2009.

During Hyland’s years as a coach, he has coached numerous students to the state championship tournaments in Pennsylvania and Virginia –  with several placing in both speech and debate – and has had students appear in the elimination rounds of nearly every national level extemporaneous speaking invitational in the United States (since 2013) and every national level Lincoln Douglas Debate invitational (since 2014).

Hyland served a term on the National Federation of High School’s Policy Debate Topic Wording Committee (2010-2013) and has served in various tabulations rooms at the NCFL National Championships. 

Shirlene Joseph – South Dakota

Throughout her high school, college and adult life, Shirlene Joseph has starred in 80 productions as the lead and has directed more than 70 productions. As an educator, her career begain in 1976 as the vocal music, theatre and oral interpretation coach at Panora-Linden (Iowa) Community schools. Two years later, she took an English and theatre instructor position at Union-Whitten (Iowa) Community schools.

While raising her two sons, Joseph took a break from teaching and pursued an acting career in Los Angeles. Joseph appeared in amateur and professional live theatre. Upon her return to South Dakota, Joseph returned to education. In 1992, she taught language arts, music and theatre at Zion Lutheran School until 1995, where Joseph took a music and theatre position at Lead-Deadwood School District. Joseph is currently the speech and debate coach and teacher.

For the past 11 years, Joseph has had her oral interpretation team win a team excellence award each season and has had 48 superior awards at the South Dakota State Oral Interpretation of Literature Festival.

Eleanor Langan – Pennsylvania

Eleanor Langan has been the speech and drama teacher and the speech and debate coach at Scranton Central and Scranton High Schools in Pennsylvania for more than 50 years. Langan has served 25 years as a member of the Pennsylvania High School Speech League (PHSSL) Board of Directors and is a founding member of the Pennsylvania Speech and Debate Association.

Through her years as a teacher and coach, Langan has instructed or led multiple student state champions (39), state championship plays (12) and all-state actors (60). Langan holds the record (10) for the number of consecutive years that schools under her direction were awarded the Pennsylvania High School Speech League sweepstakes award.

In 1987, Langan was inducted into the PHSSL Coaches Hall of Fame and is an American Speech and Debate Association 4 Diamond Coach. Langan has won 15 state sweepstakes awards, three national championships and has finished in the NFL National top 10 three times.

Susan Seep – Arizona

During her four years of college competition, Susan Seep coached at her old high school in Mesa, Arizona. In 2004, Seep began teaching english and social studies. A year later, she started coaching her own team.

Since then, Seep has served a 5A/Division 1 Representative to the Arizona Interscholastic Association for almost five years. During that time, she’s helped run 25-30 local tournaments.

Seep is a board member and president of the Southwest Speech and Debate Institute (SWSDI), a summer camp she’s worked with since its inception, in 2009. Since that time, SWSDI has educated more than 500 students in competitive speech and debate.

Melissa Witt – Texas

Melissa Witt began her career in 2000 as a speech teacher and debate coach in the Alief Independent School District in Houston, Texas. Witt is currently the speech teacher and debate coach at Hallsville Independent School District and teaches social studies, theatre, yearbook, speech and debate.

Witt has held multiple positions with the Texas Speech Communication Association and is currently serving as vice president. The Texas Tech University graduate has been a part of the Texas University Interscholastic League, National Speech and Debate Association, Texas Forensic Association, West Texas Speech Association, Northeast Debate Association, and is a topic paper author for the CX Debate Topic Selection Committee meeting for the National Federation of High School Associations.