Sandy Bolton and Samia Abdalla stand next to Tiana Bellamy, who is holding the Community Coach of the Year plaque.

“She’s the balloon that lifts us up,” says junior varsity debater, Samia Abdalla (right)

Every year, the Minnesota Urban Debate League community honors coaches who go above and beyond for their students. MNUDL alum Tiana Bellamy exemplifies the commitment, kindness, and insight students deserve from a coach— and that’s why she was voted the 2017 Community Coach of the Year by her peers.

With Tiana’s guidance, Roosevelt High School debaters Sandy Bolton and Samia Abdalla won the junior varsity division of the 2017 Citywide Championship. Sandy and Samia worked hard to refine their critical case over the season, but credit Tiana for helping them develop their ideas using Chicana feminist scholarship. “A big part of our case is about empowering women of color in debate. We are existing and arguing, so it means a lot to us,” says Sandy. “Tiana really helped,” Samia adds. “This year, we get to argue what’s ours and debate for ourselves rather than others.”

Although Tiana’s primarily role is coaching the junior varsity debaters, she took on the responsibility of guiding Roosevelt’s younger students as well. “Tiana is a great coach. She’s always there for us when we need help. She helps out everyone,” says novice Fadha. “She comes to tournaments with us every time, asks us if we understand, and helps us out if we don’t understand,” agrees fellow novice Zubeda.

Read more to learn more about Tiana’s coaching perspective.

What motivated you to become a community coach?

Tiana: My relationship to debate that eventually led me to coaching for Roosevelt this year is a complicated one. Though some of my best and most profound experiences in high school were because of MNUDL, I had some extremely negative experiences in debate as well. I experienced a number of instances of discrimination based on gender and race, and apart from my partner, many traveling tournaments felt lonely, with very few students of color to bond with and even fewer coaches to look up to. It is out of this discontent with my own experience that I chose to be a coach. I wanted to be that familiar brown face in a sea of white ones, I wanted to offer that support that I do not feel I received in high school, and most importantly, I wanted to facilitate the growth and skill development that I received without the alienation.

What are some of your most memorable moments from coaching?

Tiana: I don’t have a single moment that was most memorable. However, I will always have a soft spot for helping students understand the material, because when they get the “ah ha” moment it is one of the most rewarding feelings in existence.

What advice would you give to a new coach?

Tiana: Have a sense of humor and be humble. Students can sniff out a poser a mile away and the best thing you can do for them and for yourself is to be honest with them about your strengths and what you can reasonably offer to assist their development. Also, as my coworker Nick has found, bringing cookies to practice is a sure fire way to be in any students good graces.


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