Speech and Debate in need of head coach

After the sudden resignation of the team’s coach, concerns have arisen over the future of the program.


Aris Pastor

Charles Potter (left) and Alicia Gasana (center) talk through their speeches as Coach Erin Wolf (right) wraps up her final days on the team.

Aris Pastor, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Speech and Debate has long been one of North Allegheny’s most successful clubs. When former head coach Mrs. Sharon Volpe’s took over the already successful team 20 years ago, membership surged, as did the team’s catalog of wins on both the state and national levels. This year, Mrs. Erin Wolf took over as head coach, but just last week, students in the club came face to face with sudden and worrying news—Wolf announced her resignation effective February 6th. 

“I think that this team is spectacular,” Wolf said in an interview the The Uproar. “I think that this team is special, and I would like to see a restructuring that represents the size and caliber [of the team]. My decision to step down has absolutely zero to do with the students and their ability to perform.”

Even though she has only been with the team for a few months, Wolf has become well-loved by students in speech and debate. 

“Coach Wolf has literally been amazing this year,” senior Lamees Subier, the president of the club, stated. “She came in right away to get into the swing of things. She organized a lot of the stuff with local tournaments, coordinates with PHSSL, the state organization, registered us for tournaments, helps with payment, and goes with us to tournaments. And in practice, she’s always watching people’s pieces, editing their speeches, helping with debate. She’s just been the person who keeps everything together.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the team has run into coaching difficulties. In the past three years, three different coaches have attempted to run the team. 

“The time commitment is huge. All of the coaches in all of the sports and activities in schools do it as a labor of love,” Volpe said. “I coached because I loved it, but it was getting to be more than I could handle.”

Without a head coach or an interim coach, members of the team are finding themselves floundering. Practices cannot be held in-person without an adult sponsor, and questions about how the team will move forward, especially in the middle of the season, have only grown. 

“I’m mostly worried about organization,” senior Katharine Peng, the vice president of the club, said. “Without continuous leadership, it’s hard for the younger students to continue to grow. We, as event leaders, will only be here for so many years, and I was really hoping that Coach Wolf would stick around.”

Freshman Lauren Hwang in particular has concerns about the younger students. 

“I’m worried that speech and debate will decline, and we won’t be as good in the future, and there won’t be as much talent,” Hwang said.

Without continuous leadership, it’s hard for the younger students to continue to grow. We, as event leaders, will only be here for so many years, and I was really hoping that Coach Wolf would stick around.”

— Katharine Peng, Vice President of Speech and Debate

Senior Satvik Palagani, the treasurer of the club, is more concerned about the future of recruitment in a period of changing leadership. 

“I’m not so worried about the juniors because next to the seniors, they’ve had the most experience with how the club works. But the freshman and incoming freshman might not know how it is to have a fully functioning team, and that’s what worries me most,” Palagani said.

The club has changed the life of teachers and students alike, building a vibrant community both in the school and between other schools. This experience stands out in the minds of several students, and they worry that it will not be passed on to later generations. 

“My best experience on the team was [the National Catholic Forensics League tournament] in my junior year,” Peng said. “I know that isn’t a full tournament experience, but it was really fun just being able to travel around D.C. I really don’t want our team to lose things like that.”

While suggestions have been made to return to the online practices that characterized 2020 season, senior Samhita Gudapati, among others, finds drawbacks in that approach. 

“I think with online debate, only the people that are really dedicated to the team will do it,” she said. “It’s really easy to just do other things while you’re online.”

For North Allegheny forensics, the future remains unclear, but some steps are distinctly necessary. 

“In the short term, we obviously need an interim coach,” Subier said. “But for specific action steps that we can take, we need consistent busing. That sounds like a small thing, but some of our tournaments are an hour to an hour and a half away. We have one of our biggest tournaments—maybe the biggest—coming up, and we still don’t have a bus to take us there.”

The team will be fundraising through Chipotle from 4-8 pm on February 4th. They hope to make it through the rest of the year, rough waters and all. 

“I think Coach Wolf gave the team so much support and resources that we didn’t have in the previous ‘coach change’ years, and she really was always ready to help us with anything,” Gudapati stated. “We’ll all really miss her.”