Jones received her first prestigious “diamond award” from the National Forensic League during the national tournament this June, as she and her students dominated northern Nevada in the sport of debate.
“Our diamond awards represent excellence in coaching and teaching,” said Jenny Billman, director of media services for the National Forensic League (NFL), the organization that holds the rules and regulations of competitive debate. “The awards are based on merit points, which coaches earn based on their students’ participation and performance.”
To qualify for a first diamond, a coach must log 1,500 points — the equivalent of 15,000 student points. Students usually earn between two and six points per speech or debate. Coaches earn one-tenth of one point for every student point logged by a team member, according to Billman.
After 29 years of coaching, Jones was not surprised to receive the award but rather excited for what the award signifies.
“Watching their progress, seeing their success and being able to enjoy their success with them is so fun,” she said.
“Only a handful of coaches achieve a diamond award of any sort, because it’s quite a challenge to attain,” Billman said. Coaches must log at least five years for each diamond award, showing that diamond awards also recognize longevity in speech and debate, she added.
Jones began teaching English and communication classes at Spanish Springs High School in 2001, after teaching and coaching debate at Hug High School. She immediately received help from administration about starting a debate team.
“I know there is tons of talent in all of Washoe County,” Jones said. “They have to know that (the program) is out there for them.”
Jones said students who compete in debate are preparing themselves for challenges to come later in their lives, whether it is academic- or work-oriented.
“Typically, with forensics students, it’s a life skill,” Jones said. She finds difficulty in getting students to try debate because it is a terrifying experience.
“I can tell a student exactly what happens at a tournament, but they will not know how they feel about it unless they do it themselves,” she said.
Being part of the debate team requires a major time commitment that extends beyond the hours of classes, according to Jones.
“I tell them if you want the benefits, you will have to put in the time,” she said.
One student who was willing to sacrifice his time, both during and after school, was recent graduate Tim Seavey, who competed in the national tournament for Spanish Springs alongside his debate partner Steven Strozza.
“It’s pretty nerve-wracking the first time,” Seavey said. “After my first debate tournament I was hooked.”
Seavey and Strozza were undefeated in public forum debate during the district tournament for northern Nevada in April, in which they competed against several teams from the Reno area.
“Winning was incredibly gratifying because we beat teams we had never defeated before and it ended up playing out like a movie,” Seavey said.
The conclusion of their “film” came when another debate team from Spanish Springs was the second and final team to qualify for nationals from northern Nevada. Robert Pettit and Cody Thomason defeated their rivals from McQueen High School in the final round and helped Seavey and Strozza complete the Spanish Springs “sweep” of the district tournament.
“Those boys were floating on air. I never saw anyone so excited in my life,” Jones said.
“I was overwhelmingly proud to see these juniors that I had taught and worked with for years, come up against one of the best teams in the league and win,” Seavey said.
Spanish Springs was eliminated in the 10th round of the national tournament in Dallas, placing the cap on their remarkable season. For Seavey, who will study communications and rhetoric at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., the entire experience of the debate season fulfilled his expectations.
“Even if we hadn’t made it to nationals, debate is my biggest passion so the act of competing itself is all the gratification I need,” Seavey said.