Hugh Ringer is the forensic coach and athletic director, and he loves both jobs.
By LAURI GALENTINE
MERCER, Pa. -- Doing what he loves to do has earned Hugh Ringer more than one honor. Most recently, the Mercer High School forensic coach was among those recognized by the Industrial Information Institute for Education as a Distinguished Educator.
An MHS graduate himself, Ringer returned home in 1972 after college to teach English and take charge of the speech team that he was a part of while in high school.
At that time, the program was limited to debate and radio competitions, Ringer said. Under his direction, the program grew to include individual competitions such as persuasive, informative, boys and girls extemporaneous, oratory and declamation. His students still compete in the radio announcing category, but they no longer do debates, Ringer said.
"When I changed the program 30 years ago, I had a lot of on-the-job-training," he said. "I didn't know much more than the kids." He, and the students, learned quickly, starting with only 10 members the team produced a state champion in the persuasive category that first year.
Since that day, Ringer said, the team has grown to about 60 members from both the junior and senior high schools, which have a total enrollment of only 762 students.
With the help of seven assistant coaches, Ringer has led his team to 29 consecutive Pennsylvania High School League District I championships and produced nine individual state champions. His team has qualified 67 speakers for the National Forensic League's national competition and 286 speakers for the National Catholic Forensic League national competition.
The team's history also boasts 18 NCFL Erie Diocesan champions, seven national finalists and 13 forensic league Pittsburgh District champions.
They commonly compete against powerhouse forensic teams such as Mount Lebanon and Fox Chapel.
"The biggest highlight for me is seeing young people develop and grow as speakers," Ringer said. "They gain poise and confidence and develop skills that will help them throughout their lives."
Ringer is also the athletic director for the Mercer School District, adding that to his list of responsibilities 20 years ago.
"It's very strange to have someone who is a forensic coach and athletic director," he said. "I love both."
In addition to the recent honor bestowed upon him during a dinner at Mr. Anthony's in Boardman, Ringer is a member of the Pa. High School Speech League Hall of Fame.
He earned a bachelor's degree in speech from Youngstown State University and a master's in education with an emphasis on communication from Westminster College.
Ringer is a part-time radio sportscaster and talk show host At WWIZ radio in Sharon, and he's a member of the Pa. Speech and Debate Association.
The Industrial Information Institute for Education was started in 1947 and provides hundreds of educators and thousands of students in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Mercer counties with workshops in various subjects.