SIBLEY, Iowa - A Sibley-Ocheyedan speech coach has been recognized on a national level.

B.J. Schuller is one of 12 recipients of the National Federation State Speech, Debate, and Theatre Award, presented by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“It’s a great honor,” Schuller said of the award, which he accepted Monday at the All-State Speech Festival at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. “I’m very humbled by the experience.”

The S-O High School speech, theatre and language arts instructor was nominated for the award by the Iowa High School Speech Association. According to IHSSA Executive Director Craig Ihnen, a jury selected Schuller as this year’s sole nominee from its 498 member schools across the state of Iowa.

“He’s a very worthy and excellent candidate to receive this award,” Ihnen said, adding that Schuller is instrumental in mentoring new novice coaches in northwest Iowa. “His model is that (speech) is important for everyone. No matter what their talent level, everyone should be along for the ride.”

The award also puts him in the running for a national coach award, but that isn’t likely to be known for a year or two, Ihnen said. The IHSSA, Ihnen said, is fortunate to have had a state or section recipient since the award’s inception in 1989.

For more than 25 years, Schuller has dedicated himself to countless IHSSA causes. He’s managed both large group and individual event contests at district speech, and served on IHSSA as a state officer, Judge Certification Committee member, on the Coaches Convention Committee, AD HOC committees and as a presenter at the IHSSA convention several times. He’s also hosted judge certification at S-O.

In a roundabout way, it was Schuller's work with the speech association that brought him to S-O.

Schuller said he was providing additional support during an All-State speech event when he was a speech coach with the Manson Northwest Webster School District. As he was greeting students, former S-O superintendent Jeff Zwagerman approached him and offered him a job.

Schuller politely told him he already had a job and had no clue where Sibley was. But, as Schuller explains it, that wasn’t a deterrent for Zwagerman.

“He was like a pit bull,” Schuller said about Zwagerman’s persistent follow up calls. “He was relentless.”

It paid off for Zwagerman, as Schuller is marking his 18th year with this district.

In addition to his family being up for the new adventure, the district had experienced some speech coach turnover at the time, which was a challenge Schuller was excited to tackle.

“I was eager to try and build a strong program,” he said. “That was really inviting.”

Schuller’s continued dedication to the state’s speech association can be attributed to his own high school speech experience.

With humor, Schuller describes himself being a “freshman boy goofball” with little interest in school. One of his classmate’s older brothers asked Schuller if he’d be interested in joining the speech team. He wasn’t receptive to the idea.

Much like Zwagerman, a particularly persistent teacher at West Bend High School in West Bend, Iowa was hard to escape.

“I got in and never looked back,” Schuller said about when he first joined speech. “My grades went from C-D to A-B.”

His persistent speech coach back then was also his inspiration to become a teacher. That influence was Ihnen.

“If I can make an impact on one kid in my life like (Ihnen) did on me, it’s well worth the time,” he said. “I would do pretty much anything for the students here (at S-O).”