Teaching Wauseon High School students the finer points of public speaking and debate has been a dream job for Dolores Muller for over two decades. So being categorized as one of the best in her field is icing on the cake.
On Friday, Muller will be inducted into the Ohio Speech and Debate Association (OSDA) Hall of Fame during the 1 p.m. opening ceremony of the OSDA state finals competition at Westgate Chapel in Toledo. As head coach of the WHS Speech and Debate Team, she will join two others in Ohio who were also nominated for the honor by their peers from across the state.
Muller will be awarded a plaque and a pin distinguishing her as a Hall of Fame member, and will deliver a speech before 1,000 to 1,200 speech and debate students and coaches in attendance. Her induction will be a milestone in a 22-year career she has defined as life-defining.
“It’s pretty thrilling. The fact that peers see me worthy of this honor is very flattering,” she said.
Muller was selected in December after a committee comprised of current OSDA Hall of Fame members chose her from a list of nominees suggested by fellow speech and debate coaches. She serves with 12 other coaches on a separate entity, the OSDA Board of Directors.
A Long Island, N.Y. native, Muller moved to Wauseon 25 years ago to accommodate her husband’s job. When her oldest son became a member of the WHS Speech and Debate Team, Muller, who has a college degree in English literature, decided to volunteer her services to the 16-member team where needed. That included judging weekly tournaments.
Two years later, coaches Richard Rettig and Darren Broadway decided to move on and offered her their position.
“I did have my reservations. I respected so much the fellow who had done it before me,” she said. “(But) I had a vested interest in seeing it continue. I have to admit that I really benefited from having a good core of senior (members). Those seniors were really the make-or-break of the continuation of the team.”
Not only did the team continue, it placed second among the district’s teams that year. Following that first year, Muller quit a substitute teaching position at the high school and concentrated all of her efforts on speech and debate.
This year, she coached 23 members, and considers helping each one see their individual value and their need to progress her greatest challenge.
“Speaking is really valuable. I feel that since we live in a democratic society and have the ability to express our minds openly, we need the skills to do that,” she said.
She believes, in fact, that speech class should be mandatory. “A speech requirement, even in our digital age, is a necessary thing,” she said. “It helps people to see that they have a voice, and they can use it effectively.”
Speech and debate season is long, stretching from August to March. And keeping team members excited and motivated can be a challenge, given the the many demands of students’ time. But Muller thinks keeping members engaged in competition helps them to learn to prioritize.
She said the rewards have been satisfying. Past team members have moved on to careers in law, engineering, and government. “A lot of them go on to be movers and shakers,” she said.
“(But) even those who have not necessarily taken prominent positions in the workaday world…come back to help with the team because they are grateful for the opportunity that they were given.”
Speech and debate gives team members the ability to express themselves verbally with confidence, she said, adding, “You’re going to get heard and listened to if you command respect. People pay attention when you’re articulate.”
Muller coaches members individually, then conducts a weekly team practice during which members critique one another’s performances in 13 speech and debate categories.
“I get the satisfaction of seeing kids overcome limitations and achieve goals they set for themselves,” she said. “I am privileged to be working with some pretty fine individuals. They’re just awfully good and dedicated kids. And it’s fun.”
Amy Morr has helped Muller coach and judge the team members the past eight years. She said Muller’s passion for speech and debate is evident.
“When you talk with her about how the kids are doing during the season, she always has a smile on her face….beaming about how well they are doing or how she is looking forward to watching them grow in their category,” Morr said. “She’s a great leader and an inspiration to anyone who gets the chance to know her.“
OSDA Executive Director Paul Moffitt said Muller’s professional demeanor and coaching abilities are respected by speech and debate associates throughout the state.
“She quietly gets the job done,” he said. “She’s not someone who seeks the limelight. She’s a very competent and decent person, and (the honor) is very well deserved.’
Each of Muller’s five children went on to join the WHS Speech and Debate team. She said it has become a permanent facet of her household, and helped her establish treasured friendships among other coaches in the speech community.
“Speech is one of the best things that ever happened to me. It really has defined my life for the last 20 years. It’s the best job I could have,” she said.
Reach David at 419-330-1812
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU