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Hugh Downs School doctoral student wins debate coaching award


Michael Tristano Jr. receiving the Assistant Coach of the Year Award by the National Speech & Debate Association at their national tournament in Dallas.

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August 29, 2019

Michael Tristano Jr., a doctoral student and a recipient of the Graduate College Completion Fellowship at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, received the Assistant Coach of the Year Award by the National Speech & Debate Association (NDSA) at their national tournament held in June in Dallas.  

Tristano, who has been involved with speech and debate for more than 15 years, moved to Arizona in August 2015 to pursue a doctorate in communication. He was nominated by Nick Klemp, director of forensics at Phoenix Country Day School.

In his letter to the association nominating Tristano, Klemp says he jumped to hire Tristano as an assistant coach even though they had never met, at the recommendation of multiple colleagues.

“I have learned so much working alongside Mike, and I would not be the coach I am without him as a colleague,” Klemp wrote. “His ability to connect with our students, foster their talent and humanity and motivate them to reach as high as possible leaves him without a peer in our community.” 

Tristano says that the students at Phoenix Country Day School understand that their words matter and that communication has material consequences. 

“As a coach, it’s part of my job to have really important, and sometimes really difficult conversations about what messages they want to craft,” Tristano said. “My role as a coach is never focused on trophies. I teach students that the greatest accolade they can receive in this activity is having someone listen to their story and their truth.”

Tristano added that all of the skills students need to become change-makers — including argumentation development, political awareness, style, confidence, hope, determination, advocacy and a hard work ethic — are learned through speech and debate.

“Michael received multiple teaching awards here at the Hugh Downs School, so it comes as no surprise that he is being honored for his excellent work coaching speech and debate,” said Linda Lederman, director and professor of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

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