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Flathead speech coach receives Assistant Coach of the Year award

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | March 8, 2023 12:00 AM

Flathead High School speech and debate coach Sean O’Donnell has been named Assistant Coach of the Year for the Western District of the National Speech and Debate Association.

The award recognizes exemplary high school assistant coaches serving a National Speech and Debate Association member school. A committee of coaches selects a winner.

During his tenure, O’Donnell coached 27 individual state champions and 54 national qualifiers. He was inducted into the Montana Forensic Educators Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

O’Donnell got his start in speech and debate as a competitor during his sophomore year of high school at Flathead. It was in college that he started coaching at the high school level.

“Sean is a tough coach, one with high standards and expectations for his kids, but he is also beloved,” Flathead head coach Shannon O’Donnell said in her nomination letter. “While his kids fear his wrath, they cherish his support and delight in his words of praise and encouragement. He has been dedicated to this activity since he was a sophomore in high school, and he continues to give of his time, his weekends, his sanity … not just for the betterment of the kids on his squads or the FHS program, but for the betterment of our activity and Montana forensics as a whole.”

For most of the season, he sought ways to support the team from afar during away tournaments.

“This year, Sean spent most of the season in a wheelchair, unable to travel with his students. As someone who is a very visible presence for all of us … it was difficult for Sean to sit on the sidelines,” Shannon O’Donnell said.

“Despite his absence during competition, his students still thrived at every tournament, and they ended the season with individual championships in each of his events. We all know how difficult it is to help students navigate the emotional rollercoaster of a state tournament; Sean did that, successfully, from eight hours away,” she said, adding that he’d regularly respond to dozens of texts from competitors during tournament weekends.

She said he “worked tirelessly” outside of coaching to assist with speech and debate tournaments from at the local to state level.

“He ordered and distributed the divisional and state extemp topics from NSDA, and worked with the short prep committee to ensure that all state tournaments had their provided impromptu cartoons. The hours that Sean dedicates to being the short prep committee chair would likely shock most coaches, yet he does it year after year with little complaint,” she said.

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