You can’t fill the boots of a legend, but KWU alumnus Kiefer Storrer ’13 is excited to try.
He was recently hired as Kansas Wesleyan’s head debate and forensics coach, where he will take the reins from longtime coach Gary Harmon.
“It’s hard for anyone to follow such a successful person, but I’m excited to do it. I know that I’m capable of doing it,” Storrer said. “This job has been the dream since I was 20 or 21 years old. Gary made the transition very easy.”
In the 16 years he was at KWU, Harmon established a robust program and recruited students such as Storrer.
“Kansas Wesleyan was the only college I applied to because my high school debate coach knew Harmon, and she suggested that I come here to continue my career,” Storrer said. “I really found a home with the debate and forensics team and a good sense of community at KWU in general.”
During his student years, Storrer racked up four individual wins, including top overall competitor at Louisiana State University-Shreveport in 2012 and second place in Parliamentary Debate at Christian Nationals in 2013. He was also part of the debate team that placed first overall at Christian Nationals in 2013.
Upon graduating with a bachelor’s in Communications, Storrer took a gap year to work. He then attended the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo., where he helped coach the debate team as he completed his master’s. During that time, he also served as a judge for some debate and forensics competitions hosted by KWU.
In the fall of 2016, he learned about a position at Glendale Community College in Glendale, Ariz.
“I had to decide over the course of a weekend if I wanted to move 18 hours down there,” he said. “My car died halfway through grad school, so I didn’t have a car at the time. My dad helped me move. We packed up his little Honda and drove 18 hours to Arizona.”
His first year was as assistant coach for the debate and forensics program. After that year, he was promoted to head coach.
“It was good preparation for future coaching experiences,” Storer said. “I coached over 100 students at the community college.”
For some students, debate and forensics was a new experience.
“I had only a few who had debated in high school,” Storrer said. “The rough thing at community college is that I rarely had students for the full two years. Even though we had them a short time, we had success and got a couple of national titles.”
Titles include coaching Glendale Community College’s first ever national champion in Parliamentary Debate at Phi Rho Pi (Community College) Nationals in 2018 and Glendale Community College’s first ever showcase performer at Pi Kappa Delta Nationals in 2019. In 2019, he received the Collie-Taylor Fellowship Award at Phi Rho Pi Nationals, an annual peer-run award showcasing coaching excellency and contributions to the forensics community. He was also elected to serve as the Phi Rho Pi Region III Governor from 2018-20.
When COVID-19 struck, Glendale cut the coaching position and he returned to Kansas in July 2020.
“Barbara Marshall jumped through hoops to make it possible for me to be an assistant coach and teach as an adjunct faculty member,” Storrer said.
He collaborated with Harmon for the team’s 2020-21 competition year, which was held exclusively online.
“We were massively successful last year,” Storrer said. “The students are talented, but we also embraced online forensics.
“We were able to come away with three national titles and multiple placings at nationals. We had success online, and the prospect of going on road trips is exciting. It’s crazy to think how much better we’ll be in person.”
Continuing the culture is a priority as he embarks upon his first year as head coach.
“You can’t coach passion,” Storrer said. “We’re blessed with hard working students. There are other programs where a coach will write a whole speech for someone, and I’m so happy that’s not the culture of our team. We have college students who are young and thinking on their feet. They have something to say and have a story to share. Helping cultivate and facilitate each student’s voice is important to me.”
Storrer hit the ground running once hired as the head coach.
“I am communicating with students and they can work on events during the summer,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without the students. They are very talented and driven. We have so much potential. The program will keep growing.”
At the community college level, Storrer said he didn’t have the opportunity to recruit students.
“I’m excited about recruitment. We have such a good recruitment (Admissions) office,” Storrer said. “It makes my job a lot easier to have those I know who are interested. I think recruitment is going strong and will be even stronger.”
While the 2020-21 academic year was his first at KWU, his influence in the classroom drew students such as junior Elizabeth Schaefer onto the team.
“For one part of an oral interpretation class, we are required to compete in a competition. I got first, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should try it again,’” said Schaefer, a junior majoring in theatre with a music minor. “I did forensics in high school and went to nationals my senior year. I promised myself I would stop there, but then I met Kiefer and he invited me to join the team.”
Schaefer placed third in dramatic interpretation and fourth in program of oral interpretation at the National Christian College Forensics Invitational and was a semifinalist in dramatic interpretation at the Pi Kappa Delta National Comprehensive Tournament.
“I love my team. We’re close to each other and support each other,” Schaefer said.
The family-like atmosphere is something Harmon said is essential.
“The quality of the team is going to be solid, and it was really important that we kept the nucleus that we’ve built over the last two years,” he said.
Storrer worked closely with Harmon as the assistant coach, and Harmon said he has earned the team’s respect.
“It’s relational. Kiefer was coming into my team, so he had to build a relationship with them — one they would trust and understand and know that he knew what he was talking about,” Harmon said. “By the end of the year, students were going to him to ask questions before they would come to me, which is where we wanted them to be.”
The Wesleyan team is young and strong, with a bright future.
“I think Harmon wanted to know he was leaving the program in good hands,” Storrer said. “I didn’t have to jump through a lot of hoops to establish that trust. I think he always believed in me.”
Story by Karen Bonar