A Brief History of Homeschool Speech and Debate
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
“There is warfare. We are soldiers. We have weapons.”
~Shelley Miller, NCFCA Oregon State Representative, 2013
As we embark on our Resolved: series, you will see a lot of acronyms being thrown around. I figured it would be helpful for those unfamiliar with the homeschool speech and debate world to see a brief summary of what those acronyms mean. The following history of the key organizations and individuals is important to keep in mind as a general context for reading the posts this week.
Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) began a homeschool debate league in 1996. Christy Shipe (then Farris), the daughter of HSLDA’s chairman and co-founder Michael Farris, started the league when she was a senior at Cedarville University. The goal of the league, according to Michael, was “to improve your child’s reasoning powers, clarity of thinking, and ability to stand for the truth of God’s word.” Whereas competitive forensics sees the skills of forensics as ends in themselves, homeschool debate sees them as means to a larger end: “to help homeschoolers address life’s issues biblically, with God’s glory, not their own, as the focus.”
The very first national tournament was held in October 1997 at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, Virginia. Christy Shipe was the tournament organizer. The debate team from Cedarville, of which Shipe was a part, played a crucial role in the beginning. Deborah Haffey, Cedarville’s debate coach at the time, was influential in Shipe’s love for debate. HSLDA’s original debate teaching materials featured Haffey. And the very first homeschool debate summer camps — as far as I can remember — began at Cedarville, via the university’s Miriam Maddox Forum, led by Haffey, Jonathan Hammond, and later Jeff Motter.The final round of HSLDA’s first national tournament, by the way, took place a separate venue than the rest of the tournament. It occurred at the 1997 National Christian Home Educators Leadership Conference in front of 400 home school leaders from 44 states. It was judged by Michael Farris, Deborah Haffey, and Bob Jones University’s debate coach, Dewitt Jones.
After five years past, the homeschool debate league had grown significantly. HSLDA decided that the league should become a distinct entity from itself. So the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association was created in 2001, co-founded by Christy Shipe and Teresa Moon. The association’s original seven-member board of directors included: Shipe, Moon, Todd Cooper, Michael Farris, Skip Rutledge, Deborah Haffey, and Terry Stollar. NCFCA’s stated goal is “is to train students to be able to engage the culture for Christ.” From the very beginning, NCFCA had a significant amount of in-fighting, resulting in a rapid burning-through of its leaders. Todd Cooper, NCFCA’s original president from San Diego, was booted almost instantaneously. My father, Terry Stollar, became the second president, and resigned after significant disagreements with the board. The first two presidents — as well as Moon, who served as Director of Forensics — all hailed at some point from California, which is interesting considering what I will later mention about “Region 2″ and its split from NCFCA. Mike Larimer took over the presidency after my father. Teresa Hudson is NCFCA’s current president.
While debate was primarily the focus when the league was under HSLDA, NCFCA branched out significantly in their more diverse inclusion of speech events. As of today, NCFCA includes two types of debate — Policy and Lincoln-Douglas — as well as a variety of speech categories — biographical narrative, oratory, persuasive, duo interpretations, humorous interpretations, apologetics, extemporaneous, impromptu, and so forth.
Crucial to the growth of both HSLDA debate and later NCFCA was Communicators for Christ (CFC). David and Teresa Moon began CFC in 1997. Teresa was also the personal debate coach of many of NCFCA’s original “legends.” In the early days, the Moons traveled around the country, from state to state in their motor home, with a team of student instructors — later termed “interns.” As CFC taught speech and debate to other homeschool parents and students, it served as a “feeder” of sorts into NCFCA.
As CFC’s popularity grew, Teresa expanded CFC’s focus from homeschoolers to Christian schools in general. She refashioned the for-profit CFC into the non-profit Institute for Cultural Communicators (ICC). Today, ICC continues its CFC tours, but also offers “a variety of programs, events and teaching materials designed to help all Christian students, from all educational backgrounds — public, private and home — [to] become ‘cultural communicators’ — people who can impact their culture through excellent communication of the truth.” ICC’s stated goal is “to provide support and guidance to Christian schools, churches, and community education programs as together we train well-rounded communicators.”
A crucial concept about ICC’s goal is embodied in their “Flood the Five” conferences. The premise of these conferences is that only 5% of Americans are “ready” and “willing” to command any sort of public platform. So ICC “is committed to coaching Christian speakers to flood that 5%.”
HomeschoolDebate.com (HSD) was created by Andrew Bailey, an NCFCA alumni. HSD is an online forum for competitors, alumni, parents, and coaches from all over the country to connect. HA’s Nicholas Ducote was a board administrator on HSD for four years, and also owned the site (after Bailey moved on) for two years, from 2007-2009. I myself used HSD significantly to market Plethora, my research book series, from 2001-2005.
HSD features threads on the current year’s debate topics, on homeschool league politics, on ideas for improving debate skills, and — well, and everything else. Some of the most popular threads on HSD in the past had nothing to do with speech or debate. The most popular threads were the “Just For Fun” and “Controversy Corner” threads, where us homeschool kids would argue about everything from free will versus predestination to that year’s presidential candidates. We would also create role-playing games and fictional stories about each other, projecting fellow competitors into soap opera storylines or superhero graphic novel contexts. HSD was, and continues to be, extraordinarily popular. When competitors would actually gather in person at national qualifying tournaments or the national tournament itself, it was always a highlight to meet in person these people you would socialize with digitally for the year prior.
HSD became a microcosm of some of the speech and debate world’s important developments: the promotion of evidence and research books, the promotion of summer camps, the connecting of alumni with current competitors to pass on both competition strategies and life lessons, and a channel for graduates to help younger kids work through questions about faith and humanity. HSD was also the starting place for the Great BJU Protest of 2009.
The Great BJU Protest of 2009
In 2009, NCFCA announced that the National Tournament that year would take place at Bob Jones University. This caused an outcry from many competitors on account of BJU’s extreme legalism and history of institutionalized racism. Some competitors believed the board made a poor decision that could hurt the image of both Christianity as well as homeschooling. This issue was also exacerbated by two other issues: how NCFCA allegedly ignored California’s previous suggestion of Irvine as a location, and how the previous year NCFCA also held a national tournament event at a Shriner’s Temple. Going from a Shriner’s Temple to a place popularly conceived as racist and small-minded infuriated quite a few people. As early as March of 2009, months before the tournament happened, members of HSD were considering how best to address this — some suggesting a boycott of the tournament, others suggesting petitioning the board to change the location, and others suggesting wearing stickers or walking silently out of the opening ceremony when BJU would give their “come to BJU!” talk.
In the end, a petition was sent to NCFCA leadership to change the location. Mike Larimer, then-president of NCFCA, gave what one of the protest’s organizers called “an expected non-response.” But the petition picked up when alumni from all around the country started showing overwhelming support for the protest. (I myself proudly signed the petition, though I was long graduated from the league. Standing up for what you feel is just and right is what this whole training was about!) As support for the petition ballooned, and word got out that protestors were planning a “walk out” of the opening ceremony, the NCFCA regional coordinator of Region 8, Lisa Kays, did something highly controversial. Kays sent an email to all the other regional coordinators. In her email, she demanded (1) that any competitors from her own region that signed the petition must immediately remove their names, and (2) ban anyone that is unwilling to remove their name from competing at the National Tournament.
Yes, you read that right. Lisa Kays, one of the heads of NCFCA leadership and who is now on the board of ICC, wanted to ban people from the National Tournament for speaking up against legalism and racism. As one of the protest’s organizers said at the time, “I am incredibly saddened to see this. This is nothing less than strong arm tactics against a very legitimate and very respectful protest.”
As it turns out, this protest organizer was not the only one who was saddened by this tactic.
In 2009, after years of strained relationships between the leaders of Region 2 (primarily California) and the national leaders of NCFCA, secession happened. Due to differences in governance philosophy, the structure of tournaments qualifying students for Nationals, and allegedly how certain NCFCA leaders (mis)handled the BJU Protest, California broke from the homeschool forensics union. A new speech and debate league was formed, STOA — which is not an acronym but a reference to ancient Greek architecture. While there are several accounts discussing STOA’s split from NCFCA in 2009, and while the official date is listed everywhere as such, it seems that the original genesis of STOA as an organization began in 2008, as evidenced by STOA’s original blog post dating back to August of that year. This split was announced on HSD in July of 2009 with the title, “California secedes from NCFCA. NO JOKE!”
The original leadership for STOA were Lars Jorgensen, Scott York, Marie Stout, Jeff Schubert, and Dorr Clark. Lars Jorgensen, who was the NCFCA regional coordinator for Region 2 since 2004, was the one who officially announced the split on August 10, 2009. STOA’s goal does not differ significantly from NCFCA’s: “to train Christian homeschooled students in Speech and Debate in order to better communicate a biblical worldview.”
As of today, there are two homeschool speech and debate leagues: NCFCA and STOA. HSLDA continues to sell speech and debate material geared towards these leagues. Many of the original movers and shakers are still involved. Christy Shipe is still on the board of NCFCA. Teresa Moon continues to run CFC and ICC. Lisa Kays, one of the key players attempting to shut down the BJU protest, is on ICC’s board. Scott York continues as president of STOA.
And most curiously, a lot of us competitors who frequented the HSD forums a decade ago still frequent that forum to this day. There’s something about HSD that feels like home.