Ritz to Retire at End of Semester

Mr.+Howard+Ritz+talks+to+his+debate+students+after+school+on+Sept.+3%2C+2022.+Because+of+his+contributions%2C+the+debate+continues+to+be+competitive%2C+even+after+the+schools+move+to+6A.

Photo by Melisa Rodriguez

Mr. Howard Ritz talks to his debate students after school on Sept. 3, 2022. Because of his contributions, the debate continues to be competitive, even after the schools move to 6A.

Luke Bellinger, Staff Writer

Every third Saturday at 6 a.m., Debate Coach Howard Ritz and his debate team pile onto a school bus. The students — all dressed in suits and formal attire — prepare to show up at a rural high school and argue with other sleep-deprived students for eight hours. For eight hours, Mr. Ritz sits in various classrooms judging other high school students yelling at each other whilst spreading evidence as fast as they can. After every debate tournament, some students will have won, and some will have lost. After a frustrating day of arguing, students have nothing left to do but continue arguing.

“Listening to students preparing and debriefing each other on the bus to and from the tournaments is interesting because I’ll be upfront, but I’ll listen to them discuss things that are bizarre, intelligent, crazy and fun, hearing them debate on the bus,” Mr. Ritz said.

After 26 years of teaching, 13 of which were at Legacy, Mr. Ritz retires as the debate coach at the end of this year. Mr. Ritz teaches Professional Communications, Introduction to Debate, as well as Debate and Public Speaking 1, 2 and 3. Mr. Ritz’s 26-year career as a debate coach includes transforming the teams of Rio Vista, Burleson, Wichita Falls and Northwest High Schools. His tenure at Legacy includes hundreds of students, dozens of tournaments and constant dedication to the debate team.

The debate program is because of Mr. Ritz. He’s built it. He brings in energy to the campus that is unique to him. He has shown compassion for his students and passion for their success in a way that’s hard to do, and [he’s] done it for a lot of years. He’s built a program—a debate program from almost nothing into a premier debate program that involves so many students.”

— Dr. Stephanie Bonneau, principal

“I don’t teach debate. I actually learn from my students more than I teach them, and I teach because I don’t have to be very smart — because I work with some of the smartest kids in the school,” Mr. Ritz said, “I don’t have to teach them anything. I only have to ask them questions. They do the research and inspire me and encourage me with their intelligence, wisdom and research; watching some of these students who have the lowest self-esteem develop the confidence in a three-year period that propels them into a future of success.”

Mr. Ritz built the debate program from the ground up over the course of 13 years, and transformed it into a major program in district 11.

“The debate program is because of Mr. Ritz. He’s built it. He brings in energy to the campus that is unique to him,” Dr. Stephanie Bonneau, principal, said. “He has shown compassion for his students and passion for their success in a way that’s hard to do, and [he’s] done it for a lot of years. He’s built a program—a debate program from almost nothing into a premier debate program that involves so many students.”

Mr. Ritz inspired Debate President Madeline Torres, and recounts her experience in three years of debate with him.

“He affected my life quite a bit. When I came into debate, taking his class, I was very introverted — couldn’t really speak too much, public speaking was my greatest fear,” Torres said. “But as I’ve been in his class, I opened up a lot more. I’m more extroverted, and public speaking is now one of my favorite things to do.”

His program has helped inspire students to pursue further education, and the competitions the debate team attend only benefit the students.

“I love teaching philosophy. The students encouraged me every day. The faculty and staff here have encouraged me. The school district and the fine arts department has supported our team financially. And we’ve been able to go to roughly between 20 and 22 tournaments a year on average,” Mr. Ritz said, “We’ve been able to compete at colleges around the country. Legacy has competed at Stanford University, Berkeley, University of Southern California, UT Austin and other colleges, and getting students on college campus as a high school student, and I believe as an encouragement for them to continue their education.”

His decision to retire at the end of the year, announced during his first varsity debate class this semester, has primarily been motivated by health and family concerns.

“I turned 70 last year, and my health isn’t as good as it was. And my wife’s retiring whether I do or not,” Mr. Ritz said. “Basically my body is not keeping up with my mind. I’d love to talk. But my retirement has found me speechless.”

As for the future of the debate team, Mr. Ritz ensures the award-winning program will continue to grow at Legacy, so that his retirement does not collapse the team he has built.

“We are doing our best to recruit some of the best coaches in the state of Texas. I have some possibilities that I’m talking to,” Mr. Ritz said. “but I promised myself that I wouldn’t retire or leave the program without doing everything I could to make sure that the program continues because I want to leave a Legacy here.”

Mr. Ritz announced his retirement at the beginning of the semester, officially retiring at the end of the school year.

“I’ve already made a commitment to the last day with the faculty,” Mr. Ritz said. “I’ll start crying when I think about it, because it’s the end of a chapter for me. It’s the end of a great chapter. It’s like if you’ve ever finished reading a book and you wish it wasn’t over. The journey of writing the book is just what you really enjoy. I’ll say I can’t wait for the sequel. I can’t wait to see what the sequel is for my life. But, I’m 70 freakin’ years old. There’s not a whole lot of time left.”

Mr. Ritz will continue to interact with his students through his Instagram page, where he posts daily quotes for his fans.

“Just read my Instagram. I keep saying I’m trying to stay relevant, that’s why I’m doing the Ritzisms.” Mr. Ritz said. “You can put that in as an advertisement, ‘For more wisdom and profound sayings from the master of debate, go to @howardritz on instagram.’ I keep telling people I want to be relevant. When you get older, you want to stay relevant, but I just want to stay revenant.”

In his time here, Mr. Ritz built the debate team from the ground up, inspired hundreds of students to pursue college education, took many trophies in the process, and Mr. Ritz has improved the education of every student who comes across his class. His legacy here will continue as long as his debate team continues.

“Even though we have four trophy cases in the hallway filled with trophies, the real trophies are my students because they’re living trophies,” Mr. Ritz said. “They will reside in my heart forever.”