Chatfield speech coach honored by Section 1A peers

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Rachel Schieffelbein has been named Section 1A’s regional speech coach of the year.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Rachel Schieffelbein’s so loved by her introverted weirdos, she’s nearly speechless.

“When I was in seventh grade, one of my best friends dragged me to speech. Her older brother had done it, and she decided we should, too. I didn’t know then that it would become such a huge part of my life,” recounted Chatfield High School speech co-advisor Schieffelbein, who has been named the 2019 Section 1A regional speech coach of the year.

Speech quickly became her favorite activity in school, Schieffelbein continued. “I was at practice every night, not just practicing myself, but also watching everyone else practice,” she said. “I made some of my best friends on the speech team, people I’m still friends with now. In fact, my duo partner from high school is now my assistant coach.”

Schieffelbein started coaching right out of high school. She had been on the speech team in Chatfield for six years, and after she graduated, the head speech coach moved schools.

“The woman who’d been the assistant coach when I was on the team became the head coach and I was her assistant coach,” Schieffelbein said. “I have some of her grandchildren on my team now, which has been pretty special for me.”

Coaching speech is gratifying because she loves the kids, but she also loves how creative they are, and how hard they work.

“They inspire me all the time,” she said. “I love watching them grow and find their voice and their confidence. I admire their uniqueness and their empathy. Speech and theater people are my favorite people. They embrace uniqueness in a way many people don’t. Being weird is something to be proud of.”

People are always surprised to discover how many speech and theater people are introverted, Schieffelbin said, and noted there’s something magical about putting a bunch of introverted individuals together. “They open up in a way they don’t always get to. They’re supportive of each other and celebrate their differences along with their similarities, which they discover they have a lot of,” she said.

The coach has invested herself in her speech competitors because she feels it’s vital to maintain relationships with them.

“I want to make sure the kids find some confidence in themselves, in their abilities,” she said. “I want them to keep open minds and learn more about the people around them, and the world at large.”

Schieffelbein acknowledges that there are always new challenges, because there are always new kids. “You have to figure out how to connect with each one, how to draw the best out of them and how to find a piece that fits them,” she said. “I’ve sent kids to state 16 of my 19 years of coaching, over 20 students – some more than once. Seeing them achieve that goal is always rewarding. They constantly surprise me, because they’re constantly growing. Sometimes I show up at practice and they blow me out of the water. Speeches I’ve heard a million times can still make me laugh or cry.”

After they’ve won their tournaments, accomplished their speaking goals or gone on to explore theatrical endeavors, Schieffelbein attempts to keep in contact with as many graduates as she can.

“I try to keep track of my kids, but they’re all over the country now. I know I have students who’ve gone on to be doctors, nurses and teachers, students who work at nonprofits and students who work in the sciences,” she said. “Some still do theater – Tess Heim was actually directing a kids’ show in Lanesboro at the St. Mane Theater. I like to think they’d all say they’re glad they did speech, that it helped prepare them for whatever they chose to do next.”

This year’s student speakers likely agreed with the Section 1A coaches who nominated Schieffelbein as the 2019 coach of the year. “All the Section 1A coaches vote on who from the section should be named coach of the year every year,” Schieffelbein said. “We have a lot of amazing coaches, with really strong programs, in our section. I was really surprised and honored that some of them thought to vote for me.”

Being coach of the year means being recognized by fellow coaches and students, but that doesn’t change that Schieffelbein has only her students in mind, not her own achievements.

“They’re accomplishing so much just by doing what we do, whether they’re getting ribbons for it or not. Speech is very subjective, and there’s so much talent from all the schools that it can sometimes be heartbreaking. Only so many can move on to sections and to state, no matter how talented they are. They’re learning skills that they’ll use their whole lives. Speaking skills, and so much more. But they’ve heard me say all that!”

She concluded, “There’s something my coach used to say to us on the bus every morning, and I still say it to my kids now – ‘You are getting up early on a Saturday morning to do for fun what most people are scared to do their whole lives’. If that’s not an accomplishment in and of itself, I don’t know what is.”