Pictured, from left: Carlos Diaz, SHS Director of Forensics, Victoria Beard, SWHS Director of Forensics and Harry Yu, MHS Director of Forensics
As a speech and debate student in high school and college, Victoria Beard saw the importance of exploring real-world topics and issues, while also developing communication and critical thinking skills.
In 2005, Beard had the opportunity to take over the speech and debate program at Spring Woods High School (SWHS) and she eagerly accepted. The program had less than 10 students, but she was excited to help them expand their knowledge and become well-versed in a variety of topics.
Beard is now the Director of Forensics at SWHS and leads a group of 55 students as the Speech and Debate Coach.
As their coach, Beard is committed to helping students find their voice, develop self-confidence, give back to their community and reach T-2-4 success, where every SBISD graduate attains a technical certificate, military training, or a two-year or four-year degree.
When asked what keeps her motivated, she mentions that it has always been her students and seeing them overcome adversity. Under her leadership, Beard’s students have won the Texas Forensic Association’s State Tournament, have competed in and won the UIL 6A State Meet and have been named national champions of the National Speech and Debate Association’s National Tournament.
Beard’s passion has inspired some of her students to follow in her footsteps. Two of her former students now lead their own Forensics programs at Memorial High School (MHS) and Stratford High School (SHS).
Harry Yu, Director of Forensics at MHS, joined the debate team at SWHS during his sophomore year. Yu was involved in the newspaper club but he wanted to do something unique, so he joined the debate team.
“Debate was an eye-opening experience for me because I had the opportunity to meet a variety of new people from different backgrounds and with different experiences,” said Yu. “I did not realize how small my worldview was until I was competing with people from across the country. It also expanded my research skills, as I learned much about foreign policies and philosophies I had not learned about in my core classes.”
Yu mentions that he also learned much from Beard beyond debate. She instilled a sense of competition in him and always let him explore how to be the best. Yu has adopted this strategy with his students, and instead of walking them through every detail, he lets them fail, which allows them to learn. His students call it “trial by fire.”
After graduating from SWHS, Yu attended Trinity University, where he majored in political science. He mentions that his career choice was no surprise, as being part of the debate team taught him to enjoy learning about government and fostered his Limitless Curiosity.
While in college, Yu continued volunteering during Beard’s summer debate camp and was even a judge in some debate tournaments. Upon college graduation, he moved to San Antonio where he became a middle school teacher. He thought he would be staying there for a while, until one day, he received a call from Beard.
As her debate team grew, Beard needed an assistant coach at SWHS and knew Yu would be a perfect fit.
“I wasn’t sure at the moment, but I’m very happy I accepted,” said Yu. “When I came back to teach with Ms. Beard, I was able to put a lot of the things I learned into practice.”
Yu worked alongside Beard for three years at SWHS before transitioning to SHS, where he taught debate for four years. He mentions that being part of Beard’s team really helped him develop himself as a director.
In 2020, Cecil Trent, MHS Director of Forensics at the time and Beard’s husband, was diagnosed with brain cancer and asked Yu to take over the MHS debate team.
“Trent was a defining person in my life, he greatly helped me in high school and gave me guidance when I started coaching at SHS,” said Yu. “He always motivated me and provided advice, so when he asked me to take over the MHS debate team, I gladly accepted. It is daunting to fill his shoes, he was at MHS and a staple in the community for nearly 20 years, but continuing his legacy is very motivating.”
Yu is happy to be leading the MHS Forensics program and hopes that he inspires his students like Beard and Trent inspired him.
“I have greatly enjoyed my time at SWHS, SHS and now at MHS,” said Yu. “I have not only learned a lot from my coaches and mentors, but also from my students. During my time teaching at SWHS, I met Carlos Diaz. By coaching him, I realized teaching debate is about building connections.”
As a student, Diaz, now Director of Forensics at SHS, knew Beard and Yu had high expectations for the team and understood he would have to work hard.
Diaz notes that being part of the debate team provided him a place to be his authentic self. His senior year he began performing monologues and duos that spoke about his identity and Beard and Yu were some of his biggest supporters.
“Seeing so much success often made me question if it was just my luck, but my debate coaches constantly assured me it wasn’t, that it was my hard work and dedication,” said Diaz. “This meant the world to me.”
During his time on the SWHS debate team, the group ranked in the top 10 in the state. After graduating, Diaz enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin and joined the speech team, which was and continues to be ranked number one in the nation. Diaz notes that the success he saw during his high school and college years have greatly shaped the vision he has for SHS Speech and Debate.
After graduating from college, Diaz became the Interim Director of Forensics at MHS and a year later transitioned into his director role at SHS. He notes Beard, Yu and his experiences have shaped his coaching style and given him the ability to care for his own debate program and its students.
Diaz advises his students to not be afraid of exploring their interests and passions. He hopes his students are not driven by other’s desires, but only their own.
More than 17 years later, Beard continues to be committed to helping her students find their voice by providing them the tools to be successful in public speaking. She notes that she enjoys teaching debate but she has learned that the most important part is always to show students you are listening to them and that you care.
“I am extremely honored to have two of my alumni teach speech and debate at MHS and SHS,” concluded Beard. “It is encouraging and makes me happy to see them teach and coach at our SBISD summer speech and debate camps. It always feels like a big family when we meet for debate tournaments. I am so proud of them!”