Katy Cecil named Forensics Coach of the Year

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By Ron Benningfield

 Kentucky’s 2013 National Forensic League Coach of the Year Katy Cecil realizes her greatest fulfillment as coach whenever she guides one of her LaRue County High School students to reaching higher goals.

“When the first student I had worked with won his first award, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment I never felt getting my own trophies,” said Cecil, who teaches English and coaches speech and drama.

That student was Bill Thompson who now assists her in coaching with her husband, Eric. Thompson nominated her for the honor she received at a National Forensic League district qualifier tournament in March in Danville.

In his nominating letter, Thompson noted the qualities that make Cecil worthy of the award:

“While trophies are nice reminders of hard work, these are not the reason I have chosen to nominate this coach. Her integrity, humility, and service are evident in the way that she runs KCFL (Kentucky Catholic Forensic League). She is also a constant resource for coaches struggling with ‘Tabroom.com’ or looking for pieces for their kids.

“She is always willing to help our fellow coaches and students. Most importantly, she lives by the philosophy that all kids are important to invest your time in as a coach, not just the ones that win. She realizes that this activity saves lives because she saw it saved my own when she was just beginning her career as a forensics coach.”

Cecil, whose sister Kim Mather, and late father Garland Blair coached and cultivated LCHS speech teams to state and national awards, has mentored champions and finalists on the national level at the Yale Invitational in Connecticut, the George Mason University Patriot Games in Virginia, the Glenbrooks in Chicago, Emory University’s Barkley Forum in Georgia and the Individual Events Tournament of Champions hosted in Texas.

For the past four years LCHS has had six individual state champions at the Kentucky High School Speech League state tournament.

Cecil, a 1987 LCHS graduate, received her bachelor’s in English and Education, and two master’s degrees - in secondary education and English literature - from Western Kentucky University.

Though she competed in debate for a year while in high school, it was as a member of WKU’s speech team that she began to win awards and to develop a love for forensics.

“I know that sounds crazy, but as much as I admired my dad and knew he was an outstanding coach, and my sister was a great coach as well, I just wasn’t able to do well under them,” she said. “I think that is pretty typical with family sometimes. I never felt good enough, and I had a hard time taking criticism from either of them.”

She competed for WKU for four years and then worked with their team for a year as a coach (where she met Eric Cecil).

“I gained a sense of fulfillment while coaching that I never felt when I was competing,” she said.

Fulfillment and success, however, have come after many hours of continuous work, both for the coaches and students.

“Our kids put in practices five to six days a week and then compete on the seventh day,” she said. “We start in August looking for and preparing our pieces for performance; we start competing in October and then compete all the way through the end of March.

“Then, we have national tournaments in May and June,” she continued. “Over the summer the other coaches and I are picking pieces to perform the next year and helping the kids research for speeches. Honestly, to have a winning program‚ there is no off-season.”

In addition to coaching duties, she serves on the board of directors and is regional manager for the Kentucky High School Speech League; is on Kentucky’s district committee of the National Forensic League; is a member of the National Catholic Forensic League and the Kentucky Education Association.

“It has been a particularly rough year for me since my mother (Ruth Blair) died in November after a difficult battle with cancer, but I have tried to stay focused on the team and on doing my best for my students,” Cecil said. “They have had to be very patient with me, and my assistant coaches and students had to step up for me on more than one occasion.”

In March she received a degree as an NFL diamond coach that recognizes a professional career that combines excellence and longevity. In June Cecil will receive special recognition at the Lincoln Financial Group/National Forensic League National Speech and Debate Tournament in Birmingham.

Though she can add the NFL award to the Kentucky high school speech league award she received two years ago, Cecil gives credit for those honors to her assistant coaches and students.

“They are the real ones deserving of awards and accolades,” she said. “They never quit working, never let me down. I am so proud of them.

“They are what makes this program great, and I am privileged to be considered their leader.”