Thank you, Mr. Sheaff

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I have been reflecting a lot on how pivotal Mr. Sheaff’s presence was when I entered high school, looking for a class to take that could maybe get me out of Gym class. No one could have warned me how profoundly my life would change in so many positive ways by registering for his "Intro to Speech and Debate." Few people believe me when I say “speech and debate is singlehandedly one of the very best, most influential experiences I have had,” but those of us who had Mr Sheaff as our coach understand completely.

With 6 Sheaff kids, many of us had the pleasure of being classmates and friends with at least one Sheaff, and therefore got to have a little peek inside what it might be like to have Mr. Sheaff as a father. He set very high expectations for his children, and taught them both grounded morals and a dry, witty sense of humor. He loved them very fiercely. He set high standards for us band of Speech and Debate wildlings, as well, who arguably could have claimed him as a partial guardian every other weekend when we traveled out of state for tournaments, or for any student who used his auditorium and classroom as “home base.” We all worked our hardest to achieve his nod of approval. We also saw his secretly doting side, as much as he tried to conceal a tiny smile of quiet pride when one of his children (collectively including S&D kids) won a hard-fought battle--those smiles were worth more than any trophy or plaque.

Mr. Sheaff’s voice and presence was larger than life itself. He made you feel compelled to DO something, to SAY something, and that whatever you did say was IMPORTANT (and if not, he definitely let you know otherwise). He pushed us to question the roots of our beliefs, to explore the depths of our emotions and passions, and to “stand for something, damnit!” He refused to accept anything less than our very best, because he knew our capabilities and growth potential, and saw futures in us that we couldn’t even fathom at the time.

Mr. Sheaff has transformed the lives of so many, by transfixing our attention on the important things in life. I am extremely, extremely grateful to him for opening so many doors I didn’t even knew existed and for pushing me to find a voice I didn’t know I had. The loss of Mr. Sheaff is profound, painful, and very widespread. I will long remember him with fondness and appreciation.

- Adrienne Pyle, Dowling Catholic 2013

Sheaff never took well to gratitude. In fact, on a summer morning at speech camp, he directed me in no uncertain terms never to say the words thank you again. When I asked what to say instead, of all things he could have come up with, Sheaff instructed me to say, “Gosh, that tree is huge.” My speech and debate teammates and I overuse the word random, but this time, the shoe fits.

I went with it, though. I needed something to say because the trees kept growing. Sheaff made me feel at home as I transitioned to high school. His classroom was at once a playground and a factory of ideas. Somehow, without initially intending to travel around the country talking to walls, I found myself embraced by an activity which cultivated life-long friendships and which inspired me to use my voice. Sheaff insulted me in all the right ways, made time for me, listened to my concerns, and brought laughter to even the strangest moments of adolescence.

I felt pride when I initially one my national tournament qualification award. However, the moment when I internalized what I had accomplished came long after when Sheaff asked me to join him in the hallway outside the classroom. With the directive, “Don’t say anything,” he handed me the award I still proudly possess. He silently recognized my need for a win in the midst of the most challenging academic year of my life.

Sheaff’s heart of service and his intuitive capacity for understanding people are the Holy Spirit’s Miracle Grow. It is an honor to stand in the forest he planted. Gosh, those trees are huge. 🌳

“Eternal rest grant onto him, oh LORD, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

- Natalie Meyer Schira, Dowling Catholic 2008

Tim saved the day for us at Kennedy one year. We were departing for Glenbrooks and a snafu resulted in us not having enough seats in the van to take the number of students registered. So I got a hold of folks and they got me in touch with Tim, who had the Dowling bus stop in Coralville so we could run down there and add students from our group to his bus. He didn't have to do that for us...but he was always willing to help and I just know this is a REALLY small example of the amazing things he did for so many people.

- Jason Kline, Kennedy High School

There are points in your life where you see a fork in the road. You choose one path or the other. Whichever way you choose your life turns out drastically different. Most the time, people have a rough idea of how their life would have gone, had they ventured down the other path.

I remember going into the Dowling cafeteria in 8th grade for orientation. We were supposed to go table to table to learn about different classes to select which to take in high school. We got to the speech & debate and theater table. Mr. Sheaff was sitting there, his voice booming. I remember being intimated by him and a bit in awe. It was then that I signed up for speech and debate. I honestly don't know where my life would be if I hadn't. I can't even begin to fathom what another path would have looked like.

So many attributes, so many qualities about who I am today, were things that I found out by spending time with Mr. Sheaff. The oral communication and researching skills that I use today in law school, I first started to develop in speech & debate. We never got to travel much growing up. Speech and debate for me as an outlet to first start traveling and seeing cities and town I had never seen before.

Maybe most importantly, I don't think I ever would have been a teacher for five years without Mr. Sheaff. His impact was so large that I felt like I should teach too because maybe I could also help make an impact on a student. It's ironic then, that I was afraid to tell Mr. Sheaff that I was going to be a teacher. I figured he would tell me to stop prolonging the inevitable and to just go to law school. He would be right. But I'm still glad I taught. I learned more about myself in those five years and gained more respect for all he did as a teacher and mentor to so many.

I didn't realize how long and hard the debate weekends probably were on him. He would stay on buses until 3 am. Get to school at 7 am to open the debate door for anyone who needed it. He was always there, giving up his weekends, evenings, and free time for us.

I'm maybe most thankful for the fact that he sometimes took on a parental role for me. He was there every morning I would come to school crying to listen to whatever problem I was going through. He would also tell me how I needed to communicate better about my problems. He would tell me his expectations for me. I wouldn't want to disappoint him. He was there when I needed him most. He helped guide me in high school to be a better person.

Sheaff would always say "try not to suck." He meant this in a debate round. In life. Just try your best. Try not to suck. I made a sign that said that and it hung all 4 years of college above my desk. Those simple, silly words have meant a lot to me over the years. They have gotten me to push myself to excel even when things are difficult. They have gotten me to show compassion for myself when I don't reach an end goal as long as I tried. I'll keep trying not to suck.

If I hadn't signed up for speech and debate, I don't know where I'd be. But I'm really glad I did. My life is forever changed by Mr. Sheaff in ways I wont even begin to understand. Thank you, Mr. Sheaff.

- Kristina Maude, Dowling Catholic 2012

Mr. Sheaff was a poignant part of my four years at Dowling Catholic High School. From drama classes to the Spring musicals to being the announcer at all the assemblies with his big booming voice. His presence was one that you felt and knew was a safe haven amidst all of the uncertainties and awkward encounters that characterize high school. September 11, 2001 was one of those days that many Americans will never forget. I was in Mr. Scheaff’s drama class that morning. Despite the chaos,fear, end uncertainty that characterized that morning, he remained calm and his peace was palpable to the rest of the class. Thank you Mr. Scheaff for all of life’s lessons that you taught along the way. The lessons that extend beyond the classroom and remain with you for life. Thanks for sharing your love of arts, music, debate, and truth. Thanks for all of the fun memories at Dowling! Your life was a gift and one that so many students were blessed to enjoy.

- Katherine Rafferty, Dowling Catholic 2003

I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past few days, trying to recall a poignant story to sum up the essence of Mr. Sheaff and his importance to me. It feels an impossible task, but here’s a few things I’d like to share.

My older sister, Allison, inspired me to join debate. She was so smart and confident and cool and I wanted a piece of that that too. So when I decided the join the team 8 years after Allison, Mr. Sheaff was there to welcome another “Miss McCarthy”. I felt recognized and important immediately.

High school can be really, really hard, but I always felt important in that auditorium. The place that Mr. Sheaff created there was a home - somewhere you could always go and be welcomed and recognized.

One example of his domain being home is the time I auditioned for the Dowling musical - I completely blew it. My voice cracked as I forgot the words to my audition song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, right up on stage. I was ready to drop out of high school and runaway that very instant. But that next day as I walked into debate seminar, not the slightest twinge of disappointment was on Mr Sheaff’s face, and I knew that debate and the community he created would always be safe.

That community he helped build continued after graduation. During the year, Mr Sheaff would text me updates on my former partners and teammates performance.

Nov 6, 2011:
“DOWLING DEBATE ALERT: Sean and Joe just won their double-octos round at the UMich tournament...meaning they have received their 2nd bid to the TOC!!”

Feb 11, 2012:
“ far DOWLING CATHOLIC has qualed 2 policy teams to NFL Nationals... including Simon Sheaff... Jon Langle, Sean Duff, Joseph Nelson”

Mar 3, 2012

Sep 30, 2012

Oct 6, 2012
“Simon and Jon just won their octos round and have therefore achieved their SECOND BID to the TOC”

Oct 7, 2012

We were proud together and those text messages were not only reminders of how amazing Dowling Debate is/was/will be (Go Maroons!), but they were reminders that Mr Sheaff knew me, thought of me, and wanted to share their success with me. Once again, he made me feel important.

There’s not enough to say about this man. There rarely is when someone has had as widespread and profound an impact as Tim Sheaff. But I’m proud to have been one of his students and debaters and I’ll always have the confidence that he helped build in me.

- Shannon McCarthy, Dowling Catholic 2011

There are endlessly many things I could say about Tim Sheaff.

High school is a formative period in one’s life. Educators carry a disproportionate burden of being parental and influential to hundreds of students. Teaching is first and foremost a job; you could clock in at 8 and out at 3:15, and no one would fault you for it.

Sheaff never clocked out. That’s made many of us far better adults.

I remember cheating on a final project in his class when I was sixteen. He was solemn when he caught me, not angry. “I’m not disappointed because you cheated. I’m disappointed because I know what you’re capable of when you apply yourself.”

Sheaff pushed me. He scolded me. He saw in me an identity entirely separate from my older sister’s magnificent shadow. He set a bar of expectation far out of my reach and made me wholeheartedly believe I could grasp it.

The ripple of Sheaff’s presence in my life as a young man has reverberated tenfold into my adulthood. He afforded me lifelong friends, commitment to learning, and an ever present awareness that you have infinite potential even on the days when you feel like you have none.

There are endlessly many things I could say about Tim Sheaff. For now, I’ll say he was important.

- Rem Jaques, Dowling Catholic 2012

An educator unlike any other. Thank you, Mr. Sheaff.

Debate is the most impactful educational activity in which I've participated. Without Mr. Sheaff, I would not have debated. I'm one of hundreds for which this is true.

Sheaff — though there are many Sheaffs, when students said "Sheaff," we knew who commanded 'the Sheaff' title — inspired me a desire to learn and achieve. The Dowling debate novice program, in particular, carried a track record of strength because Sheaff viewed it as critically important to create a welcoming environment early. Sean and I won the first debate tournament we attended, The Marquette Hilltopper Classic in 2008. Sheaff was proud and supportively unsatisfied.

Debate is an incredibly involved activity. Out-of-state national tournaments take place at least once a month. In September every year, Sheaff drove a van of high schoolers 12 hours to Dallas in a single sitting. And then he did it again the next very weekend, too (Grapevine, Greenhill). In order to have a shot at competing in the Tournament of Champions (the "Super Bowl of high school debate"), debaters would need to excel in at least two nationally competitive tournaments per year. Sheaff ensured we would have maximal chances to qualify, and my senior year we did. Sheaff's time was dedicated to ensuring access to the activity unlike any person I've met.

Winning was important to Sheaff, but so was enabling debate to be an activity that builds character. We showed up on time. We worked hard. We wore button ups and ties to every round. We respected our opponents. We thanked our judges (yes, "We're Dowling"). Debaters often joke about "portable skills" that one learns in debate to take into the real world. I hadn't anticipated how many transferable skills there would be from respectful regime.

One time a number of years after I'd graduated from Dowling, Sheaff invited me to offer remarks to his debate class about what I'd been up to since high school debate. The students didn't really care what I had to say. Sheaff listened intently. Sheaff wanted to further instill confidence in me and my career, so this was his way of encouraging me. It worked.

I can say many things about the positive impact of debate on my life, and as a result, Mr. Sheaff. But it's not only being able to have participated in debate. It's have been able to experience Dowling Debate under Mr. Sheaff. Thanks, Tim. You will be missed.

- Joseph Nelson, Dowling 2012

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