Ideas for Our Growing Alumni Population

Guess who I hung out with at the National Invitational Tournament of Champions last year? Two “alumni,” now 26, who are legends in the homeschool speech and debate circuit. Our visit sprung a few ideas for alumni who, I suspect, are the untapped audience of any forensics league.

Alumni

Selfie with Cody and Travis Herche, twin legends from about a decade ago.

Pictured with me above are 26-year-old twins, Cody and Travis Herche, former national champions in numerous events. They were incredible speakers and debaters who gained reputations nationwide. Both served as my coaches throughout the years, especially Travis who today runs his own online coaching business. Cody went the academic route, now a graduate from Cornell Law School and working in New York.

Last year’s national tournament was in the same place as 2009, and we even decided to share a room at the same hotel in Greenville, South Carolina, carpooling to and from the tournament at Bob Jones University. We reminisced, shared old stories, and had a blast together.

The Alumni Subculture

I couldn’t help but realize, there is an entire subculture of alumni like Travis and Cody. They spent their junior high and high school years traveling the country building life skills to take on great unknown futures. It blows my mind when I think about it. I’ve been coaching speech and debate — arguably the best and most valuable education available — for 20 years, and there is reciprocally a gigantic community of alumni.

Seriously, there are tens of thousands of them.
Who knows where they are?
How are the alumni connected back into the community that brought them up?

The leagues do a little. They have them serve as “alumni judges,” a special track that help establish a fair judges panel (a parent, a community volunteer, and an alumnus is a nice balance). A few stick around after their high school years and help coach clubs. I can count on one hand how many have developed small businesses that cater to the community, like my colleague Travis at TravisHerche.com.

The vast majority, however, move on. They get degrees, jobs, spouses and start having children. If it weren’t for Facebook, we’d most likely never hear from them again.

Ideas for Our Alumni Community

After a few days together, Cody jumped in a rental and drove back to New York. Travis and I sat in an airport waiting to board our planes. We came up with this non-exhaustive list of ideas that the leagues — or, rather, the larger speech and debate coaching community, which is what the leagues consist of, really — could implement to best utilize the enormous alumni judging pool.

  • Coach. If a graduate is sticking close by after graduation, solicit them to coach your students.
  • Coaching Partnerships. I’m thinking something different than just a club coach. Most graduates don’t stick around town — they’re off to college and quickly become disconnected from their former community. Instead, offer them the opportunity to partner with individual students throughout the year. More of a mentorship opportunity, you as coach simply administer an exchange of contact information to have your club member stay connected year by year.
  • Nationals Reunion. These often happen organically (the alumni get together without our help), but when I ran NITOC 2012, the Stoa president and I were more purposeful. We rented Whit’s End at Focus on the Family and bought ice cream for all alumni who showed up. The place was packed, and Scott York and I personally were the “bouncers” who kept the little kids out (graduates only!). We had a ball. Administrators of Nationals should deliberately provide an alumni reunion sometime during the week.
  • Alumni Database. There are a few Facebook groups out there, but I’m thinking much bigger and sophisticated. Colleges have huge budgets dedicated to their alumni, and I think the leagues should, too. Socially, an alumni database would keep the emotional capital of their high school community vibrant. Come to think of it, such a database could turn out to be a financial undercurrent for future support. Alumni are becoming robust taxpayers and contributors in our economy, some quite healthy, too!

These are some ideas that came to our mind. There are two formidable homeschool leagues (NCFCA and Stoa), but the same ideas can and should be applied to other leagues as well (NSDA being the largest in the world). Together with organizations like mine, we should continue to encourage alumni to come back and contribute to the community that helped spark their exciting futures.

Are you a debater? Join me in Colorado in July for the Training Minds Camp!