Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy (LATCA) is in the midst of building a debate dynasty. In just their third year as members of DEBATE-Kansas City (DKC) LATCA has 45 debaters on team, a list of more students wanting to join and a growing trophy case. They are blessed to have strong administrative support, great parents and talented students, but their greatest asset just may be head coach Bill Lindsey.
In just three years Bill Lindsey has gone from first-time debate coach to a successful DKC veteran. DKC caught up with Mr. Lindsey for insights into his and LATCA’s success. Here’s how Mr. Lindsey described his team’s growth process:
The team has grown in many ways since our beginnings three years ago. Most notably is our numbers. Our first year we started with 5 students and by the end of the year we had 15- 20 students participating. Last year we began with around 12 and ended up with a total of around twenty participants. This year we had seventy students sign-up and have pared that number down to 45. We add students when spots are available and have a waiting list of ten students waiting for an opportunity to participate. We have also grown in maturity and academically. Our 7th and 8th graders are ready to help our fifth and sixth graders not only with speeches, but also with their behavior in school and at practices and tournaments. Our students run practices for the most part with staff supervision. There has been growth shown in our standardized testing scores and improvement in the classroom academically.
One of the greatest strengths of the LATCA team is the extraordinary level of parental support. At a workshop earlier in the year well over 50 parents came to watch their students engage mock debates. The team feels like a big family and Mr. Lindsey explained how it developed:
Parent support is a big part of our program. We tell the kids and their parents we want them at practices and tournaments if possible. I stress to the parents that their child should be practicing their speeches at home and the parents need to provide feedback. They are as much a part of the team as their student. Once they attend a tournament or a practice they are pretty well hooked. Some of our parents even offer feedback to students at tournaments. Last year I asked them to help put together a end of year picnic for the students and we had over 150 people attend the event. They were very helpful and the event was a big success. We also explain the advantages and benefits that happen as a result of participation in Debate. I tell my parents, as a coach that I expect them to be involved and there are many ways to be involved and help them identify ways to be involved. Currently we are looking at sending some students to the NJFL finals in June and we have a group of parents who are helping to make this happen. I believe the key is letting the parents know we want them to be there.
To have such high levels of success requires a great deal of time and energy. Debate is a year-round commitment that leaves many to wonder where coaches like Mr. Lindsey find the time and the passion. However, he finds being the head debate coach at LATCA incredibly rewarding, saying:
The biggest rewards for me is the relationships that are developed with students and their families. The stories that come with these relationships inspire me. They range from great success stories from a student who has been failing and is now successful, to heart wrenching stories about what our kids are going through in our urban areas. It is rewarding to see the proud looks from the parents as they watch their students giving speeches and later possibly getting a trophy or a medal. We like winning, but we stress participation and giving your best. We support one another as a team no matter where a student places at a tournament. Knowing I have the capability to change a student’s life is rewarding for me. I love sharing tournament results and the DKC rankings. I enjoy the friendships I have with other coaches and teams and celebrating with them as they win.