12 October 2022
APPLE VALLEY, Minn. — While Pam and Joe Wycoff have retired from forensics, you see their imprint all over. There’s a special place for students who are finalists at the National Speech and Debate Tournament.
“When those pictures started going up on the wall and people see them, it’s about lifting others up,” said Pam Wycoff. “They say, ‘I see that person. That person looks like me. If that person did it, then I can do it, too.'”
Many people aren’t even sure of what high school forensics really entails. It dates back to Greek competitions, where people would perform in public forums. Those forums are now classrooms, where students have the choice to compete in different categories— from drama and humorous interpretation to extemporaneous speaking and original oratory.
“In the world that we live in now, where people use words the wrong way,” said Joe Wycoff. “Language is used the wrong way. And so that whole idea of paying tribute to the language and oral communication is really critical.”
Mfaz Mohammad Ali knows the role of language firsthand. She made it to the national tournament in her first year, competing with more than 6,000 other students from nearly 1,500 high schools and won in humorous interpretation.
“The part about giving voice is like our team theme, is like advocacy and giving a voice to things or people,” said Mfaz. “It’s something that I really care about.”
It’s why Pam and Joe are trying to help people find and share their voice.
“It’s not the activity that gets the funding in the schools,” said Pam. “And there are teachers without resources, there are kids who are desperate to be a part of this and they don’t have the funding.”
So Pam and Joe—the retired coaches—have turned into fundraisers.
“It takes away the barriers of registration fees and transportation. And we are allowing them to get their foot in the door to have the program that we want others to have,” said Pam. “We figured if our kids love it this much and there’s that much of a demand out there for it, then the least we could do would be to give back.”
Pam and Joe add it’s about giving back, paying it forward, and focusing on what’s really important.
“The activity of speech is not about the trophies and the tournaments that you have when you’re actually in high school. It’s about the real final rounds that happen way after high school’s done,” said Pam.
“The real final round is, that’s when you’ve got skin in the game,” says Joe. “What’s going to happen later when you have a college interview? Or when there’s a scholarship on the line? Or when there’s a social situation where you being able to keep composure, handling winning and losing in life. That’s the real final round, when you can look back and say speech was good for me. Debate was good for me. That’s why I did it. Because there’s a transfer that can make my life better.”
Apple Valley High School has produced nearly 100 state champions in forensics. Many of those students went on to the national tournament, and more importantly, have developed communication skills, critical thinking, and empathy.
Pam and Joe have helped to raise more than $65,000. That money will go into a fund to help schools across the country start a speech and debate program or keep it alive. If you would like to donate, click here.
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Author: A.J. Hilton