Speech coaches picked for Hall of Fame

March 10, 2019

With a combined 23 state championship teams during their tenure, speech and debate assistant coaches Ivanna Fritz of Glacier High School and Sean O’Donnell of Flathead High School will be inducted into the Montana Forensic Educators Association Coaches Hall of Fame.

That breaks down to 13 state championships for Fritz and 10 for O’Donnell.

Fritz and O’Donnell recently were selected to be inducted next year during the Montana Forensic Educators Association Speech and Debate Coaches Conference.

It is fitting that Fritz and O’Donnell will be honored at the same time, since the two coached for the same team, Flathead, in the 1990s until Glacier opened in 2007. During that time they also co-taught an English and world history class.

So far, Fritz has coached speech and debate for 24 years and O’Donnell, 22. With the exception of one year, both have spent their coaching careers in Kalispell’s two high schools.

Both have been named Class AA coaches of the year, O’Donnell in 1999 and 2006 and Fritz in 2013.

O’Donnell got into speech and debate as a high school competitor. With a laugh, O’Donnell said he joined the team in his sophomore year due to a misunderstanding.

At the time, he was taking an honors English class taught by Sue Brown, who is now retired. Brown was inducted to the hall of fame in 2004. While she was not coaching at the time, she was a strong speech and debate advocate.

“I wandered into speech and debate assuming it was a class assignment,” O’Donnell said. “I quickly discovered that wasn’t the case, but I was already hooked.”

In college, O’Donnell got a taste of what coaching was like although that wasn’t his intention. While attending Carroll College in Helena, area high school speech and debate teams called upon the college students to serve as coaches.

“It was meant to be temporary, but I fell in love with it. I knew in two days what I wanted to do,” O’Donnell said.

He went on to join the Flathead coaching staff in 1992. O’Donnell currently coaches Legislative Debate, Extemporaneous Speaking and Impromptu Speaking while helping when needed in Original Oratory and Informative Speaking.

Fritz said speech and debate wasn’t offered at her small high school in Eastern Montana. She actually became involved in college as part of a communications degree requirement to coach or judge a local high school speech and debate program.

“So I learned Lincoln-Douglas Debate and coached,” Fritz said.

She continues to coach Lincoln-Douglas Debate to this day, in addition to Legislative Debate.

“In both of these debate events you have to look at both sides of an issue and truly think critically on both sides,” Fritz said.

Fritz joined the Flathead coaches in 1995, where she stayed until Glacier opened in 2007. Factoring into her decision to help build another speech and debate powerhouse was the tradition of excellence with other veteran coaches.

“Flathead had such a long tradition I wasn’t worried about Flathead continuing on,” Fritz said.

Coaching at the beginning and end of the season is quite different.

“When you think of coaching speech and debate, it’s like teaching another class at the end of the day,” Fritz said about the start of a season. “At the end of the season, it doesn’t feel like teaching at all. You’re watching debates and finding nuances to finesse.”

What O’Donnell said he finds inspiring about coaching is that “our kids are willing to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and go to a tournament to speak on election reform, or how to manage the budget deficit.”

Fritz noted how varsity competitors are sought out to mentor novice teammates.

“You want all your kids to be invested and learn from each other,” Fritz said.

The induction ceremony will be held March 2020 in Helena. The annual ceremony is one Fritz said she looks forward to.

“No matter what competitive feelings you have with other coaches, that night reminds you all the coaches are doing it for the same reason - to make kids the best they can be,” Fritz said.

“You look at those people who are in the Hall of Fame who are incredible coaches,” O’Donnell said. “It’s incredibly humbling.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.