Dynastic debate duo retires from coaching at AVHS

Apple Valley High School speech and debate director Pam Wycoff, and husband and fellow speech coach, Joe Wycoff retired in June after 24 years and 15 years, respectively, at the school. During their tenure, the team has produced 81 state champions and 105 national finalists in debate and speech. (Photo by Jessica Harper)

Apple Valley High School speech and debate director Pam Wycoff, and husband and fellow speech coach, Joe Wycoff retired in June after 24 years and 15 years, respectively, at the school. During their tenure, the team has produced 81 state champions and 105 national finalists in debate and speech. (Photo by Jessica Harper)

For nearly two decades, Pam and Joe Wycoff have overseen nearly every aspect of the Apple Valley High School speech team.

Joe often focuses on the creative side, while Pam takes a more analytical approach by focusing on the details.

Their strategy seems to have paid off – so much so that the team has produced 73 state champions during their tenure. The school has 81 state champions overall in speech and debate and 334 state medals. Under the Wycoffs’ guidance, the program has generated 105 finalists at the national forensic speech and debate tournaments.

After witnessing the team take yet another national title in June, the husband and wife team retired.

“I’ve had a wonderful career,” Pam, 56, said. “I wanted to end it when I still really love it.”

Though Pam will no longer serve as the director of Apple Valley’s speech and debate programs, she will continue to direct the school’s mentorship program. She also plans to continue to serve as vice president of the National Forensic League Board of Directors.

Joe, 68, is retiring from coaching and his role as director of arts and activities at the school.

Together they played off each other’s strengths and brought out the best in their students.

“Joe is more artistic and Pam is more analytical,” said Georgia Schmitt, a former state speech champion. “Together they make the perfect team.”

When working one-on-one with students, Pam and Joe encourage students to challenge themselves and continuously make revisions.

“It’s always about the message,” said Nader Helmy, a three-time national speech champion. “They encourage us to find true meaning in what we do.

Joe says Pam is the real shining star.

“She’s been the heart and soul of the speech program,” he said. “The legacy of Apple Valley speech and debate is the legacy of Pam.”

Pam already had a winning reputation when she took over Apple Valley’s speech and debate program 24 years ago. Previously, she directed the speech and debate program Loyola Catholic School in Mankato for 10 years. Under her guidance, it became a Division A champion school.

In 1989, Pam was recruited by Apple Valley High School to fill its speech and debate director position.

She was unfamiliar with debate at the time, but decided to meet the challenge.

Since then, Apple Valley has held the record for most state championships and the most state medals in the history of the Minnesota State High School League’s state speech tournaments.

As a result, Pam was inducted into the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame.

Pam developed a passion for speech as a teen when she competed on her high school team.

“It became second nature to coach,” she said.

Pam sets the bar high and expects the best out of every student.

“It’s not about winning,” she said. “Excellence is the goal – winning is a bonus.”

When coaching students, Pam focuses on every last detail and even offers makeup and wardrobe tips.

“It’s not a matter of money but of appropriateness,” she said. “I want to instill class.”

The couple provide donated suits for those who are unable to afford one.

Helping students find the right speech is often the most challenging aspect of the job, Pam said.

“Convincing students you know the right category and the right material for them can be difficult,” she said. “Teens are prone to be free-spirited and strong minded.”

Joe also has a history of nurturing winning teams. Prior to coaching at AVHS, he was the director of speech and debate at Chesterton High School in Chesterton, Ind., where his team won 15 state championships. While there, Joe was inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame.

Joe and Pam are members of the National Forensic League Hall of Fame.

After teaching and coaching in Chesterton for 31 years, Joe took a teaching job at Apple Valley High School in 1998 and joined Pam as a speech coach. One year later, the couple were married.

Pam and Joe’s departure leaves some big shoes to fill.

“It will be hard to replace them,” Schmitt said. “But Apple Valley will be strong because they built such a good foundation.”

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