Hering honored for coaching critical thinkers

Eastview debate and speech coach will be inducted in MSHSL Hall of Fame

Todd Hering

Almost every Saturday from October to April, Eastview High School debate and speech coach Todd Hering wakes up at 5 a.m. to meet students at the school and travel to others all over Minnesota.

He spends the most of the day encouraging his team and assisting with tournament duties. During the week, he comes to school early or stays late in the afternoon to coach students and prepare them for the coming weekend’s tournament. He’s been doing this for more than 20 years.

This year, Hering’s dedication will be recognized through his induction into the Minnesota State High School League’s Hall of Fame in the Class of 2017.

Every year, the MSHSL honors Minnesota’s best and brightest teachers and coaches, and Hering’s distinguished coaching record has earned him a place in the Hall of Fame.

Throughout his career at Eastview, Hering has coached 10 debate state champions, one national debate runner-up, six speech state champions and five national speech champions.

He has received several awards, including the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association Jim Graupner Distinguished Service Award in 2001. Hering was also selected as the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association Coach of the Year, two times. He is one of only two coaches to ever be twice awarded this honor.

Hering got his start at Stillwater High School, where he participated in both speech and debate as a student from 1989-91. He earned a state championship title his senior year in Policy Debate.

Following his high school graduation, Hering began working as an assistant coach for Stillwater’s debate team. He was hired as Stillwater’s head debate coach in 1994, while he was a senior in college, and he stayed until he earned his post-grad teaching license in 1997. That same year, Hering took a job as a history and social studies teacher at Eastview, where he was also offered debate and speech coaching positions.

The Eastview debate team is one of the nation’s largest; around 100 members actively participate each season. With nine state championships and 55 national qualifiers, they have a strong record of success.

Hering said that the most important attribute of a good coach is being someone who can create opportunities.

“One of the things I’m really proud of is how many people are able to debate here,” he said. “We work really hard to create as many opportunities as possible to come in and try debate. We don’t just pick our top eight and focus on them; we try to have a quality experience for a lot of different people.”

Eastview High School debate and speech coach Todd Hering works with students to teach them about argumentation and communication. Approximately 100 students participate in Eastview debate, and Hering works with each one to help them become better critical thinkers and prepare them for their Saturday competitions. Photo submitted

He also said it is important for coaches to understand their team members and figure out what motivates them. Hering said that years of experience have helped him to better relate to a wider range of students. Through working with these students, he has learned that experience is more important than wins and losses.

“I try to remember that it is fun to win a trophy, but that is really not what the activity is about,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten better at that as I’ve gotten older – just focusing on the real value of it.”

Hering believes debate is an important activity for students because it teaches students how to be thoughtful, participatory consumers and contributors of information.

“Debate is one of the few activities that really trains a person how to think critically, how to research critically, and how to listen critically,” he said. “We are in the information age. We are bombarded with information. And so much of it is partisan, shoddy – all the junk that goes around online that is half-truth or none-truth. Debate teaches you how to think about those things, and I think that is really powerful.”

Hering’s peers appreciate his dedication to both the debate and speech teams, and they lauded his coaching philosophies.

“He is one who encourages the kids to do their best,” said Ryan Roseen, head coach of the Eastview speech team. “He gives all speech team students he works with the encouragement that they can do well.”

Assistant debate coach Zachary Prax agrees that Hering’s mentorship is one of Eastview’s keys to success.

“He cares about each as a person far more than as a competitor, and though he has guided students to a number of state and national championships, he cares far more about developing skills and helping cultivate a healthy learning atmosphere than any competitive result or record,” Prax said.

It’s not only Hering’s peers who see the value of his work. Alumni of Eastview’s debate and speech programs say they have been impacted by Hering’s work long after their time on the team came to an end.

Hering coached James Hohmann from 2001 to 2005 for debate, extemporaneous speaking and Student Congress. Now, he is a political correspondent for the Washington Post, and he said the lessons he learned from Hering shaped him into the person he is today.

“I learned as much during each practice with Hering as in any academic class, except maybe Advanced Placement U.S. History. And that’s only because he was the teacher. Practices with Hering were like graduate school seminars,” Hohmann said. “You had to come prepared, and it was like drinking from a firehose.”

Hohmann said Hering has high expectations for his students, and he challenges them to become their best.

“Hering challenged me like almost no one else has. He challenged everything I thought I knew and every assumption I made. That forced me to think critically and made me a better debater. I learned how to conceptualize arguments and analyze complex issues,” Hohmann said. “I learned how to think through all sides of every question, how to distill lots of complex information and then explain it in terms that lay people could understand. Buzzwords and catchphrases were never enough for Hering. You had to have substance and bring your A game. Always.”

Other students have been affected similarly.

Josh Stager was a member of Eastview’s debate and speech teams from 1998 to 2002. He currently works on Capitol Hill, and he says the lessons he learned through Hering’s coaching 15 years ago continue to impact his career today.

“He is extraordinarily dedicated to his students and his team.” Stager said. “The program he created at Eastview was easily one of the most formative and enduring parts of my education. I work on federal policy in Washington now, and I draw on my speech and debate experiences daily. I wish more people in D.C. had the benefit of Todd’s coaching.”

Hering said he is looking forward to the coming debate and speech seasons. He said the debate team, which will begin practicing in September and competing in October has a lot of young talent and he is excited about their potential.

The MSHSL Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront Hotel on Sunday, Oct. 22, at 1 p.m.

The event is open to the public, and tickets can be reserved at www.mshsl.org.

This will be the 22nd group to be inducted into the League’s Hall of Fame since its start in 1991. The league will induct 12 members this year, making 220 members total.

Contact Amy Mihelich at [email protected]