Hall of famer finds the voice in her students

Kathy Tar, forensics coach and English teacher at Divine Child High School in Dearborn, stands at the podium of her classroom, where she works to help students overcome their nervousness in public speaking. In May, Tar was inducted into the Michigan Speech Coaches Incorporated Hall of Fame. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Speech coach Tar has built Divine Child into forensics powerhouse

Dearborn — The Divine Child forensics team’s state championship trophies decorate the hallways of the Dearborn school.

But forensics coach Kathy Tar will be the first to tell you those prizes aren’t how she measures success.

Tar has built the Falcons into a powerhouse in forensics, competitive speaking and literature interpretation featuring categories such as broadcasting, oratory, drama interpretation and poetry.

Divine Child is the seven-time defending Class B Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association (MIFA) state champion.

“All the state trophies and individual accolades are nice, but the real trophies are the students,” Tar told The Michigan Catholic.

Tar has been at Divine Child High School for the past 21 years, teaching English and coaching the forensics team since she started at the school.

For her contributions to speech coaching, Tar was inducted into the Michigan Speech Coaches Incorporated Hall of Fame during the end-of-year Mackinac Conference and Tournament at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Tar previously was named the MIFA coach of the year three times, but was speechless when she found out she was a hall of famer, an odd phenomenon for a speech coach.

“I wasn’t expecting it; I didn’t even know I was nominated,” Tar said. “I was at the school, coaching that night, when the president of the Michigan Speech Coaches Association called and said I was selected to be inducted. Some of my assistants came in and asked if I was all right, saying I looked different.”

Tar and the Divine Child forensics team were a few weeks out from the Mackinac tournament, so as to avoid interfering with preparations, Tar kept a secret until a few days before they traveled to the island.

On May 19, Tar accepted her nomination into the hall of fame.

“There is no one reason I got into forensics, but I knew I wanted to teach, so I tutored quite a bit on Saturdays,” Tar said. “I love high school students, and by coaching forensics, you get to spend time with them doing something they love to do.”

A graduate of Our Lady Star of the Sea High School in Grosse Pointe Woods and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Tar got into forensics while student teaching at John Marshall Junior High in Westland.

“I just loved it there, getting to take the kids outside the classroom and apply reading literature out loud and learning new materials, skills they can apply seven days a week, and take it up a level and compete with it,” Tar said.
After graduation, Tar taught at Our Lady Star of the Sea, Marshall Junior High and St. Mary School in Wayne, before taking a break from teaching after the 1984-85 school year to raise her four daughters.

Tar returned to the classroom with Divine Child in the 1996 and knew right away she wanted to start a forensics team.

“We started competing in the Catholic League and went to nationals in the second year; that’s when I knew we needed to branch out,” Tar said. “We needed to join MIFA, with all the public schools. Being your best is competing with the best, and beating the best.”

Divine Child found itself among the best of the best rather quickly. Since 2003, the Falcons haven’t finished outside the top three in the state. But that doesn’t define success for Tar.

“Success is each student getting to find their voice,” Tar said. “When the year comes when we don’t win successive state championships, does that say we’re failures? No. It’s not about winning; it’s about striving for excellence.”

The biggest testament to Tar’s impact on her students is the number of alumni who come back to be assistant coaches for the team, helping current students with lines in a scene they’re acting or sharpen a talking point in an informative speech.

Tar keeps up with most of her students, many of whom thank her for coaching them throughout the years, testifying the skills they learned from forensics have opened career opportunities they never thought possible.

“I’ve had many students say forensics was the best high school experience they had, and that’s not knocking other teams and clubs we have at Divine Child,” Tar said. “But forensics made them see things differently.”

Recognized by her current and former students, along with her peers, is one thing. But for Tar, the greatest thrill is seeing the transformation of a freshman nervously rehearsing a drama interpretation to a senior mastering a sales pitch on a state-championship level.

“It’s heart-warming, memorable beyond speech, to watch these students, from all walks of life and all interest, just come alive,” Tar said. “There’s nothing I can say to explain it, knowing this transformation is going to happen, and seeing it before your eyes. That is why I do this.”