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Happy Thank a Coach Week! – Celebrating Our Middle School Mentors

Anyone who’s been part of a team knows that it’s strong leadership that makes programs thrive. That’s why we were excited when Governor Walz declared this week Thank A Coach/Advisor Week: “to promote and support the thousands of coaches and advisers in Minnesota that are making a positive difference in their communities.”

We’re grateful to each and every one of our coaches for our national topic and community-led programs – but we’re especially grateful for our middle school mentors. In our middle school debate programming, current high school debaters assist at teams across Minneapolis & St. Paul.

These middle school mentors set stellar examples of leadership by teaching debate skills, using their deep knowledge of the topic, and encouraging students through their first tournaments. They’ve got a full slate of responsibilities as high school debaters, but they still make the time to work with middle school teams!

Middle school mentors also serve as a familiar face when middle school students transition into high school teams. Thank you so much to our coaches – whether community coaches, teacher coaches, or high school mentors – for accelerating our cycle of programming!

Isabel - Urban Debate
Isabel earned the MS Community Coach of the Year Award last year.

Isabel Kleckner Supports Self-Belief and Critical Thinking

Isabel, current Washburn debater, has been coaching at Justice Page Middle School for two years.

She’s motivated to give students the opportunity to debate and to ease the high school transition: “It was helpful for me to see familiar faces when I walked into Washburn debate practice in my freshman year and my middle school coach was still there. I wanted the kids at Justice Page to also have that when they came to debate for Washburn.”

Isabel is leading a group of rookie debaters this year and has already seen great progress: “This year I have exclusively Rookie debaters. I honestly felt like a mother hen trying to see all of my teams before and after each round to make sure they were having fun. At the first regular practice after the tournament, I had four kids show up asking if they could practice debate each other. Seeing them excited to spend the entire practice heavily focused on debate material after months of trying to convince them they didn’t need to make a TikTok every practice was a clear representation of why I continue to coach. This activity changes kids, and to watch that is a privilege.”

Isabel sees the value of debate experience, whether the middle school students continue to compete in high school: “I always hope that the students I coach continue to debate when they move on to high school, but mostly I just hope they continue to see themselves as smart whether or not they continue to debate, and that they continue questioning the world around them.”


Elsa (far right) poses with middle school debaters and fellow mentors, including Sandy Bolton (left) and Zach Glaser (left inset).

Elsa Snowbeck Returns Home to Inspire Love of Debate

Elsa coaches at Highland Park Middle School and will soon graduate from Highland Park Senior High School. She returned to the middle school where she first learned debate and has made a difference over the last three years.

“I started debate in 6th grade, and it was the best part of middle school, introducing me to the most important activity I do to this day. I started coaching in order to give back to the team and to hopefully help other kids learn to love and get the most out of debate,” says Elsa.

“Coaching has taught me both how simple and complicated debate can be — you can lecture all day about straight turns and double binds, but some of the most relevant tips I’ve given have boiled down to ‘just keep talking.’

Elsa adds: “Middle schoolers are much smarter than they get credit for. I also am consistently surprised by the questions I get from my debaters.”

Looking forward to the rest of the middle school season, Elsa says: “I really hope that my students come away from this season loving debate. They all put a ton of work in, so I hope for their sake that they have some competitive success as well, but what’s most important is that they continue to learn from and enjoy debating far into the future.”


In the 2018-19 season, Harriet returned to Barton Open School to co-coach with her former teacher, Flory Sommers, while assisting the East African Debate team.

Harriet Lindner Follows Coach’s Lead, Creates Fun Environment

Harriet, who currently debates at Washburn High School, coaches for Anthony Middle School. She first learned debate at Clara Barton Open School, learning from coach Flory Sommers: “I had a phenomenal debate coach. She truly made every kid she taught better at debate. I aspire to have the same effect.” She also returned to her home school to coach the East African Debate League students last year.

“Coaching debate has taught me that everyone can achieve varsity status in anything that they do, It just takes a little bit longer and more effort for some. That’s totally okay – they are worth the effort.”

Harriet has high hopes for the team this season: “The kids at Anthony are beyond hilarious and exceptional. I am super excited for everyone of the kids, whether they win tons and tons of medals or never win one that is okay, for right now I think they would all say that are having a blast.”


Cassie (far right) poses with the Central team, where she leads and to which she recruits middle school debaters.

Cassie Devries Builds Confidence & the Debate Pipeline

Cassie Devries, current Central High School debater, has coached the Murray Middle School team for two years. She became a coach because she sees how much easier middle school debate experience can make the transition to high school debate.

“I wanted to reach out to the people that would one day be on our team, or even on someone else’s. I’ve seen the power you bring with if you have middle school experience at the high school level, and I want to keep young kids interested in the topic,” says Cassie.

From coaching, Cassie has learned about herself and come to appreciate her own coaches: “Coaching has taught me a lot about my own abilities as a teacher and how I can help influence young people. I’ve also learned A LOT about what my own coaches go through, putting up with all of us!”

Cassie is ready to bring confidence to the Murray students this season: “I really hope that this year my debaters will come out of their shells. I see a few teams that I think could go really far. I want all of them to love the activity enough to want to.”


Thank you to all of our coaches, and especially our middle school mentors: Leila Sundin, Maya Sprenger Otto, Elias Hillman, Simon Jarcho, Zach Glaser, Sandy Bolton, Nora Bliss, Nora Nederloe, Marshall Steele, Henry Kelly, Caleb Stipkovits, Carmen Castillon-Castro, Charles Ihekoronye, and Sam Groven!

Provide stipends to recognize the contributions of these youth leaders. Make a monthly or one-time gift to sustain our year-round programming!