Someone You Should Know: Trial lawyer leads Sioux Falls Christian debate team

Published: May. 10, 2023 at 4:54 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - For more than 20 years, Jeff Clapper has been a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sioux Falls. Thirteen years ago, he took on a new role, outside the courtroom.

“Sioux Falls Christian needed someone to take over the program that had just started, and my daughter was in it,” said Jeff.

So Jeff became a high school debate coach, even though he was never in debate from his high school days at O’Gorman.

“I was in track and cross-country. Quite honestly, I didn’t know how it was going to go when I started coaching debate,” said Jeff.

It went well from the very beginning.

“The first year, I got to coach with my daughter. We only had six kids on the debate team, but we won the state championship that year. And then she graduated a year after that, and then my son was in debate. He became a state champion, too. That was also rewarding,” said Jeff.

In all, Jeff’s Sioux Falls Christian teams have won seven Class A State Championships. But it hasn’t just been about the trophies.

“I had to learn early on it wasn’t all about winning. It was about teaching kids life skills, and I think debate really does that. It teaches them how to research and write and communicate their positions on things. It also teaches them to ask the right questions, how to listen to other people,” said Jeff.

“Jeff would stay at school until 11 and 12 at night working with us. He would read my arguments anytime I would send them to him. He was always there if I wanted to call him to talk about an argument that we had or a potential topic that we were going to run. He was always there for us.”

Coaching has been a nice diversion from his day job.

“I deal with some pretty serious stuff in my line of work. To be able to go to debate and deal with students and coach debate using the skills, but not the same dark circumstances that I deal with at work, is a breath of fresh air,” said Jeff.

“I think we definitely have a competitive advantage over other schools. Jeff has a special insight when it comes to legal issues, but also the federal issues that he talks about. His job allows us learn to how to definitely speak better. How to be more persuasive in rounds,” said debate team member Carson Weiner.

In recent years, Jeff handed over the reins of the Chargers debate program.

“Success seems to attract more students, and in the last few years, we’ve had over 20 students every season. We decided we needed somebody that can be in the school as a teacher, so I’ve transitioned into being the assistant coach,” said Jeff.

“Jeff built this program from the very foundations. When I was asked to come on a couple of years ago, I was pretty nervous about taking over from somebody who built the program, but he’s been nothing but helpful. He thought of us as a team from day one,” said debate coach Rachel Hekman.

He loves to see the success the kids go on to have in life.

“I’ve had students go to law school, nursing, sales, accounting. And I frequently run into them, and they often tell me debate was the best thing they did in high school,” said Jeff.