Academically driven Rowland Hall students gravitate toward debate in part due to the opportunity to learn from accomplished-yet-easygoing Debate Coach Mike Shackelford. He has a natural, playful rapport with his debaters. Jaden Lessnick ’16, one of the most successful debaters in school history, went home after one tournament especially excited about his success. But Jaden’s excitement was not over a trophy or an award; he had been granted the privilege of calling his coach by his distinctively chummy nickname. Beginning debaters refer to their coach in formal parlance, Mr. Shackelford. After a certain measure of success, students earn the right to call their award-winning coach “Mikee.” “I still remember how excited and proud Jaden was when he was finally allowed to call you ‘Mikee,’” Jaden’s mother later wrote in a year-end thank you note to Mike.
Mike coaches the Middle School and Upper School debate teams and teaches political science in the history department. He came to Rowland Hall in 2007 after receiving a bachelor of science in political science from Weber State University and a master of arts in rhetoric from Pepperdine University. He also taught or coached at Jordan High School, Pepperdine University, Weber State, University of California-Berkeley, the Cal National Speech and Debate Institutes, and the Michigan Debate Institute.
Mike has traveled all over the United States attending collegiate and high school debate tournaments and serves in a variety of community leadership positions, including representative for the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), chair of the Great Salt Lake District of the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA), and executive board member of the National Debate Coaches Association (NDCA).
This year, Mike won National District Chair of the Year for his leadership in the NSDA, and in 2014 he received the Policy Debate Coach of the Year award in recognition of having the top policy debate program in the state of Utah. Mike has consistently raised the bar of excellence by coaching students who win national awards almost every weekend they travel. No Utah team has ever had teams in national elimination rounds as often as Rowland Hall, an accomplishment that contributes to our reputation as one of the best policy debate programs in the United States.
In the most recent season, the debate team earned 13 bids to the Tournament of Champions (TOC), with one partnership gaining nine bids by themselves (the most in the country). That team was consistently ranked in the top five in the national coaches’ poll and reached the elite eight at the TOC, out of 72 teams that reached the most prestigious tournament in the country. At another national championship—the NDCA’s—one of Mike’s teams finished in second place.
People often compare teams to family but debate seems particularly close-knit. Mike and his wife, Carol, have a four-year-old son named Lucas. The weekend following Lucas’ birth, Mike attended the local Alta Silver and Black Invitational Tournament with his team, but his wife wasn’t upset at his absence. According to Mike, “she understands,” particularly since Carol served as the head debate coach at Bingham High School through 2014. In-town weekend tournaments are a family affair for the Shackelford family, with Lucas patiently by his dad’s side through the long hours, offering pre-round high-fives to the team. The Shackelfords expanded their team in August with the birth of their second son, Ethan.