- Speech & Debate
Every year, the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) honors excellence in key categories for coaches nationally. Nominations pour in from all over the country for these prestigious awards. Each nomination is considered, and after a rigorous, multi-factor process, a winner is selected.
Almaden Country Day School (ACDS) is immeasurably proud to report that our very own Coach Chris Wardner is the recipient of the 2021 National Speech and Debate Association’s (NSDA) Middle School Coach of the Year, announced on May 25, 2021! Leland High School’s Speech and Debate director and Hall of Fame honoree Gay Brasher nominated Coach Wardner for his enormous leadership of the teams he coaches. She says of him, “Coach Wardner fosters a culture of collaboration and respect, ensuring each student is valued and their contributions are affirmed.”
Coach Wardner is a Triple Diamond speech and debate coach whose work and influence in the speech and debate world spans well over two decades. For example, while ACDS requires students to take a public speaking elective to graduate, for nearly three decades the school did not field a competitive middle school speech and debate team, nor did Northern California have a middle school league or organization. Yet.
Not to be deterred, Coach Wardner assembled a team, took the young competitors to all the local high school invitationals, and never looked back. Fifteen years ago, the team started out with just a handful of participants and has now grown to more than 40 members strong. There are no tryouts; our team is a no-cut program. Additionally, while anyone in Middle School interested in speech and debate is invited to join the team, Coach Wardner also encourages those to join who don’t think they have the confidence for public speaking. Almaden Country Day alumna Parker Beyersdoerfer (‘17), the current Leland High School Speech and Debate Team President, recalled how Coach Wardner got her started -- by having her write an expository speech on her then current favorite show “Dr. Who.” Parker commented, “Not only did Coach Wardner grant me an opportunity to express myself more freely, but the chance to grow as a speaker in a safe and comfortable environment.”
Sometimes students will join the speech and debate team without knowing exactly where they fit. This was the case with alumna Aly McIntyre (‘17). “I was being a particularly tough case, cycling through nearly every middle school speech event in existence, but Coach Wardner stuck with me until I found my spark in spontaneous speaking. He sets the stage for hard work and dedication. Anyone who gets the opportunity to work on their speech with Coach Chris Wardner gets an opportunity of a lifetime.”
During the pandemic, it was unclear how the NSDA would pivot to salvage the season for the students. Coach Wardner led the charge to move tournaments to an online platform, and the ACDS team continued its season nearly seamlessly, even travelling virtually to tournaments all across the country. Coach Wardner’s dedication to the students and to speech and debate knows no bounds.
Within the context of focusing on learning, growing , having fun and building student confidence, Coach Wardner has also fielded very competitive teams over the years. At the 2019 NSDA Middle School National Tournament he coached an Oratory finalist and had numerous students in both speech and debate elimination rounds. In 2020, Chris coached a Showcase Champion in the Congressional Authorship event. At the first annual California State Middle School Tournament in 2019, he coached the Humorous and Storytelling State Champions and had six additional finalists. In 2021, ACDS claimed State Champions in Duo Interpretation, Storytelling and Humorous Interpretation with eleven other ACDS students making the finals.
Coach Wardner is thrilled to be the 2021 NSDA’s Middle School Coach of the Year. “It’s an honor to receive this award. What this award really shows is that I am fortunate enough to work with talented young students and that my administration fully backs Speech and Debate as an integral extracurricular activity. And all this is possible because of the NSDA’s charge to lead middle school speech and debate as a national activity, “ says Coach Wardner.