[eDebate] In Recognition: Ross K. Smith
Wed Jul 22 19:05:48 CDT 2009
*In Recognition: Ross K. Smith*
Earlier this week the college debate community lost one of its most
accomplished and influential coaches, leaders, mentors, and friends. Ross
Kennedy Smith passed away on July 19, 2009, but his influence will be felt
for many years.
In the shock of the last few days the debate community has paused and
reflected on the ways in which Ross influenced us all. The tremendous
outpouring of condolences and memories is a testament to how many lives Ross
touched. As representatives of the three largest collegiate policy debate
organizations we take this moment to remember a coaching legend.
For the last quarter century Ross, as Director of Debate, and Alan Louden,
as Director of Forensics, embodied the Wake Forest University Debate team.
As we celebrate Ross, we also celebrate the remarkable partnership of these
two remarkable forensics educators. Together they defined a standard of
excellence for all debate programs. It is not always easy to highlight their
accomplishments in isolation of each other, because they both exemplify such
modesty. Today we celebrate their partnership as we remember Ross.
A Wake graduate himself (?82, ?84), Ross started coaching the Demon Deacons
in the fall of 1984 as he began one of the most significant coaching careers
in the history of intercollegiate debate. As the Director of Debate at Wake
Forest, Ross left his mark as a deeply committed and incredibly successful
coach. His list of accomplishments is long and well-known. He coached the
1997 and 2008 National Debate Tournament National Champions, the 2006 and
2009 NDT 2nd place teams, was named National Coach of the Year in 1994 and
1998, and District VI Coach of the Year in 2000 and 2006. In Best of the
Decade polling he was named Best Judge of the 1990's and Second Best Coach
of the 1990's. He qualified more teams to the elimination rounds of the
National Debate Tournament than any other coach in the last decade.
As remarkable as this list of accomplishments is, it only begins
to appreciate his energy and his passion as an educator. Ross was a
tireless advocate for bringing the very best from policy debate. A brilliant
teacher, Ross was a mentor to Wake students of all competitive abilities.
With leadership from Al and Ross the Wake Forest debate program has
influenced hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students. Many fields owe
a debt of thanks for the talented young professionals that learned from
Ross. It is almost impossible, for example, to find a debate program
untouched by Wake graduates.
Regardless of when they were involved with the team or if they were an
undergraduate competitor or a graduate teaching assistant, these students
fondly recall the influence Ross has on their development. Marcia Tierksy
(WFU Class of ?94) explains,
"Ross was a remarkable person. He was a great mentor and a brilliant
innovator. I know that I would not be the person that I am today without
Ross's influence, and I could easily name 50 other people who could say the
same. Ross had a great gift for making those who debated for him better.
Better debaters, better thinkers, better speakers, and better people. There
are no words for how much he is missed."
His influence was not just limited to those enrolled as students
at Wake Forest. Ross saw competition not as a way to divide people, but as
an opportunity to teach all those around him. Many of those who have shared
their memories in recent days are those who competed against Ross and his
Wake teams. Dan Shalmon (Berkeley, ?04) shared what is was like to compete
against Wake Forest,
"Debate coaches are intensely competitive people. Rivalries can become
intense, personal and mean. Races for the Copeland Award, which recognizes
the best team of the course of a season can become downright ugly. Such
races usually are waged between two, or at most three teams?. Ross was a
mentor to me and my teammates. He was also the coach of the team we
contended for the Copeland with most closely. Our race came right down the
wire; our debates with Wake were exceedingly close and often infuriatingly
so. Ross was always - and I mean without fail - friendly and supportive."
Ed Panetta, the Director of Forensics at the University of Georgia, himself
a former Wake debate graduate assistant, noted this same experience of
coaching against Ross,
"While his teams were very competitive -- he didn't project a sense of being
competitive with his professional colleagues. This is a gift that fewer and
fewer coaches exhibit. When Georgia was in the finals of the (1997) NDT
against Wake Forest we spent most of the debate together sharing fun
memories. And, he was very gracious in victory. In fact, he was the only
person left to help me move [our] evidence from the ballroom that night
after the dust settled."
Debate coaches and students spend a great deal of time together during the
competition season, much of it at three day competitions, known as
tournaments. Never content to direct countless tabulation rooms at other
schools? tournaments and host the largest regular season tournament each
year, Ross always worked tirelessly to make tournaments better. As the hosts
of the ?Dixie? (now renamed as the ?Franklin Shirley?) college debate
tournament, Ross was a driving force in improving the way that debate
tournaments operate. Ross had as much influence as anyone in the last
quarter-century in improving their operation.
His willingness to take risks and experiment with new practices brought many
of the innovations that today the debate community takes for granted.
Everything from the basic time limits for each speech, the scale used to
evaluate the way in individual debaters are judged, use of precise and
accurate schedules, greater transparency in pre-tournament disclosure, and
groundbreaking use of computer tabulation software were innovations
developed at Wake Forest.
He strove to provide great competition and legendary hospitality. It is not
surprising that the annual Wake tournament was selected as the best
tournament of the both the 1980s and 1990s. The humane and professionally
managed tournament attracted the very best in college policy debate and is a
positive memory for everyone who attended as a coach or competitor.
Ross also influenced many more students by directing Wake?s summer debate
institutes for high school students, organizing public debates and teaching
Debate and Advocacy at Wake Forest. His high school summer workshop and
early season national high school tournament provided high quality
instruction and competitive experiences for thousands of high school
students from across the nation. He also edited more than twenty volumes of
the "Debater's Research Guide", the most widely respected annual guide to
the policy literature and arguments surrounding each year's national high
school debate topics.
His service includes leadership at the national level of intercollegiate
debate organizations. He served as the District IV representative to the
National Debate Tournament for several terms and served on the national
topic selection committee. Ross was a leading voice in making the merger of
the NDT and CEDA communities possible, a tremendous step forward in the
integration of our debate community. In just the last few months he played
an active role in The National Development Conference on Debate, hosted at
Wake Forest. He served as a member of the Best Practices Committee, a group
that continued the spirit of his labors. He was a vocal and enthusiastic
advocate at this forum, just as he had been his entire career.
Ross saw debate as something that was not limited to just tournament
competitions. He founded the Open Source Debate Foundation, which has as its
mission the connection of the research and analytic capacities of the
academic debate community and its graduates to the wider political and
policy communities. He cofounded DebateScoop, a community blog devoted to
coverage of campaign debates led by the nation?s leading debate and
political communication scholars. He was active in local Democratic Party
politics, including running for the Board of Education Forsyth County, NC,
in 2006. He also taught regularly at the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows
Initiative, a U.S. Department of State-sponsored program that brought
hundreds of high school students from around the world to Wake Forest for
study of civic activism.
In recognition of his exemplary service, he was named the 2009
recipient of the George Ziegelmueller Award. The award, named for the
longtime coach at Wayne State University, is presented to a faculty member
who has distinguished himself or herself in the communication profession
while coaching teams to competitive success at the National Debate
Tournament. Ziegelmueller?s son, Bill (?91), debated at Wake Forest. Al
Louden, himself a recipient of the award in 2000, presented the award.
"The Ziegelmueller award is the top award presented by the National Debate
Tournament, which recognizes long-term career contributions to the national
debate community, akin to a lifetime achievement award ? In Ross? case, his
competitive success, coupled with being widely recognized as the leading
innovator for debate practice in the country, contributed to his selection."
The generational nature of academic debate lends to a sometimes
fleeting institutional memory. Students and coaches pass through each year.
Some influence others as a judge, others host competitions, and still fewer
truly become mentors to the next generation of talented students. Ross not
only thrived in each of these roles, he set a standard for others to follow.
Bill Ziegelmueller?s college debate partner, Mark Grant (?93, ?95),
expresses how Ross lives on in those he touched.
Ross's passion, intelligence, wit, willingness to challenge contemporary
thinking, and kindness won't be forgotten. Ross changed the world around him
for the better, in ways varying from as personal as helping troubled
students to as vast as improving the quality of debates in countless places
and ways. Those of us still here already miss you terribly, but beneath
that, are overwhelmed by how you positively touched our lives. Coach,
teacher, boss, friend, I am deeply thankful for the time you had with us.
Every person who has passed through debate in the last quarter-century has
been influenced by Ross. Dallas Perkins, the Director of Debate at Harvard
University described Ross as ?one of the most highly respected judges in
history? and ?One of the greatest coaches in the history of academic debate
in America has left us at a terribly young age.?
At this truly sad moment we face the future and the change that
will come. This will be all the more difficult because of how important Ross
was in difficult times. When circumstances warranted change, Ross was not
afraid to act decisively. Within weeks of the terrorist attacks of September
11th, 2001 Ross broke with traditional tournament format to provide
opportunities for extended discussions of issues affecting the nation and
world following the attacks during the Franklin Shirley tournament?s public
debate-ins. The process of making this happen was challenging and it
required motivating an entire community to adjust its practices.
Appropriately, Ross voiced the challenge,
"Look folks, there are thousands of people who WANT TO HEAR YOU. They are
calling on you to debate in a way that answers their real need for something
beyond the drumbeat of the media and the administration. Will you answer
For the last twenty-five years Ross answered the call with a sense of joy
and energy that inspired us all. We are better for having had the pleasure
of knowing him. His pioneering contributions advanced our competition
practices and our activity's pedagogy single him out as a true visionary who
will be dearly missed. Today we begin the difficult task of moving forward,
inspired by his legacy and answering that call. It will be very difficult to
experience tournament competition without him. His influence, however, will
last as long as we honor his memory.
As the representatives of intercollegiate debate organizations, we recognize
Ross K. Smith?s lifetime of service to our community and we express our most
profound condolences to his wife Jayne, their son Alex, their entire family,
Alan Louden, the entire Wake Forest debate family, and Wake Forest
Brent Brossman, President ? American Debate Association
Tim O?Donnell, Committee Chair ? National Debate Tournament
Robert C. Rowland, Chair of the Board of Trustees, National Debate
Gordon Stables, President ? Cross Examination Debate Association
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