EDITORIAL: Speech and debate program needs to be funded


Photo by Photo courtesy of Jason Burleigh

The CMR speech and debate team take a moment to relax while at a tournament in Bozeman.

A group of teenagers emerge from a bus on a cold, snowy night and file into the lobby of a small, low quality hotel in Montana. Each dressed in fancy, formal clothing, they are exhausted from spending the last 12 hours of their day giving speeches and spectating others. They head up the creaky stairs to their rooms, cramming four people into each while holding bags of frozen microwave meals from Albertsons, only to discover that there is no microwave available. But no one complains. After all, this is the most that they could afford with the small amount of money they managed to fundraise that year.

Speech and debate is a great program that teaches teenagers valuable skills that they will use for the rest of their lives, throughout college and into the world of business, and it is an extracurricular activity that is a glowing addition to any college resume. However, as educational and important as this program is, C. M. Russell High School does not provide them with a single cent, leaving students and coaches to fend for themselves.

The speech and debate students hold a single fundraiser every year at the beginning of the season, prior to the first tournament. This butter braid sale determines what the team is able to afford for the entire season. Anything that exceeds the money raised through this fundraiser has to be taken straight out of the pockets of coaches and team members.

Paying for tournament necessities such as buses, hotels, and food is one of the biggest struggles that the team faces throughout the season. Often, the team is forced to split the price of a bus with Great Falls High, another extremely underfunded team, in order to pay for a bus, especially during overlapping times with sports when the prices of team transportation buses is at its highest.

But more financially detrimental are hotels. Often, the speech and debate team has no choice but to stay in small, low quality hotels because they are unable to afford anything else. And even in these cheap hotels, the team is only able to pay for so many rooms, forcing students to cram three or four people into each room. Paying to feed students during tournaments can also be a struggle, and further into the season the meals often end up coming straight out of the coaches’ pockets. Speech and debate coaches often also work as teachers, meaning they are severely underpaid and paying to feed an entire team of teenagers can have negative effects on their bank accounts. Eating at true, sit-down restaurants at tournaments is extremely rare, and usually the most that is provided is two fast food restaurant or grocery store visits, often where students have to pay for their own food. This ends up becoming a problem in the long run as some kids cannot afford to buy their own meals.

]Despite all of this, some believe that the program does not need any funding, and that money is limited and should be given to more “important” programs. They also may argue that other activities have to raise money through fundraisers as well and that the speech and debate program is not special or more deserving. While this is true, many extra-curricular activities such as football are given money straight from the school to accommodate them alongside the money raised from fundraisers. Speech and debate, along with many other activities, receives no money from the school board, making it harder to afford the things they need. Not to mention that some sports are able to gather revenue through sponsorships and charges for game tickets.

For speech and debate, it is unbelievably tough to find sponsors as the team is small and has a hard time finding businesses that haven’t already sponsored multiple other programs. The team is also unable to gather money from charging for anything; tournaments are free and often do not gather many spectators anyway. So yes, the speech and debate program is not special in any way, but it should not be expected to gather all of its money independently, especially when the team normally has so few members.

So, how can we solve this problem? Well, the first step would be to divide money from the school board equally among all sports and extracurricular activities, regardless of the activity’s popularity or social relevance. Either way, larger teams such as football who “need” more money will still be able to easily gather money because of the team’s size alone. No program should be forced to entirely fend for itself financially. Another possible solution is to allow speech and debate to hold multiple fundraisers throughout the season and perhaps outside of the season, rather than a single fundraiser that many team members refuse to participate in, in order to ensure that the team can feed and house team members during tournaments. We should take it into our hands to solve this problem to give the speech and debate program the funding it deserves. They want that addition to their college resume the same way you want your position as varsity player on your sports team on your resume. They just need the money to be able to make that happen.