Speech and debate team reckons with familiar enemy: fundraising

September 17, 2020 — by Anouk Yeh
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This the homepage of Tabroom, the website where almost all speech and debate tournaments will be taking place during the virtual year.

Financial difficulties loom in a year when little is normal.


The speech and debate team’s parent orientation meeting on Aug. 29 had 35 parents turn out. Most of them were new and interested in having their children join the program.

During the meeting, the team’s adviser, English teacher Erick Rector, and parent booster president Srividya Velchamy covered many different aspects about the program including practice schedules, tournament set-up and coaching formatting. 

Then, Rector reminded parents that the plausibility of their children being able to have facilitated practice runs, successfully compete in tournaments and receive adequate coaching solely depended mainly on team finances.

Historically, the team has struggled with maintaining an adequate budget. Rector said that since 2016, the team’s budget has “gone downhill” due to multiple reasons, one of the biggest ones being lack of member donations. 

And despite the large turnout at the Aug. 29 parent orientation and Sept. 2 student orientation, the team has only received two membership donations as of Sept. 8. The suggested donation amount for the club remains the same as last year: $800. Despite all tournaments and practices being virtual, the donation amount has stayed the same because the school is still providing students with the same resources, which include coaching, chaperoning at virtual tournaments and access to high school Coast Forensic League tournaments, but just virtual.

Rector attributes part of the problem to communications issues. 

“Parents are already paying a lot for their kids to be involved in these extracurriculars, so I think it's just difficult for us to get everyone on board with supporting this kind of program,” he said. 

Remote learning has also contributed to the problem. With all the practices going virtual, Rector said that it’s harder for parents to agree to pay the same price they did for an in-person season. 

Rector said that, if the problem of low donation rates persists, it may affect the team in the long run.

“If we don't have continuous financial support, then we have to cut down on the coaching staff,” Rector explained. “When we start cutting down coaching staff, we're going to start cutting down on events.”

Although the team has not had to resort to cutting events just yet, it has experienced its fair share of struggles with hiring coaches. Over this summer, Rector said that the team received an offer from a highly qualified coach, but the team budget could not pay for the contract the coach asked for. 

As of now, the team has Stanford sophomore Kate Selig as its JV Public Forum coach, and Steven Clemmons as its Varsity Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas coach. Both coaches had worked with Saratoga High last season. Rector will also be continuing to double up as both an adviser and speech coach. The rest of the positions for other events have not been filled. 

In terms of resources, all public high school speech and debate teams face the same struggles with applying for district funding and parent fundraisers. However most private schools don’t face the same problems, giving them an edge in competition.

In fact, two of the leading speech and debate schools in the Coast Forensic League, the league in which Saratoga High competes, are Archbishop Mitty and Harker, both private schools. 

“If you look at these top, competitive private school teams, what sets them apart is the fact that they can hire people to coach full time,” Rector said. “Some teams have two full-time coaches that are paid a full salary just for teaching speech and debate.”

Despite this, Rector thinks the program is headed in a good direction. In fact, it has given him — and the team — more motivation to tackle the issue head on. This year Rector created a new officer role called VP of fundraising, whose goal is to facilitate and brainstorm the ideas for the team’s fundraising. 

This year’s VP of fundraising is senior Audrey Lee. Lee has been working closely with Rector to come up with new fundraising initiatives to engage team members and stress the importance of meeting financial goals.

“It’s kind of a tough job, but it has to be done,” Lee said of the new position. “I just hope that we can afford to have a great season — and that we can get parents on board too.”


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