ORLANDO — Robert Littlefield will bring a pen to this week's National High School Hall of Fame induction ceremony, just in case.
"There's going to be a table set up for us where we'll sit and people can get our autographs if they want," Littlefield said. "There's a chance people will want the autograph of the basketball star or the former Olympic athlete more than mine, but you never know. I'll bring my pen."
Littlefield chuckled as he said this, knowing a speech and debate coach from North Dakota won't attract as much attention as, say, Alex English, the eight-time NBA All-Star and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member, who will join Littlefield in the 2021 high school hall of fame class.
Funny, though. While other new inductees like English, former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Tim Couch, Olympic hockey star Karyn Bye and Olympic softball standout Michele Smith are much bigger names, it is Littlefield who stands out in the class of 12.
He is the only person not connected to sports.
The Fargo North High School graduate who holds degrees from Minnesota State University Moorhead and North Dakota State University — and was a longtime professor at NDSU — made his name in forensics, not athletics.
Not criminal forensics, like you hear about on TV cop shows. But forensics defined as argumentative exercises, like speech and debate.
Littlefield, 69, has been the director of the Nicholson School of Communication and Media at the University of Central Florida since 2016, but he'll be inducted as a North Dakota member of the hall of fame. He spent 38 years from 1978-2016 teaching and coaching in the state after beginning his career in Barnesville, Minn., in 1974.
Among the most notable of the dozens of accomplishments listed on Littlefield's resume is coaching a nationally recognized debate team at Fargo Shanley High School that won an international competition in 2013, as well as the school's strong speech team that won six state titles.
Littlefield and his wife Kathy started KIDSPEAK, an after-school program intended to develop effective communication and critical thinking skills in elementary and middle school children.
He was the forensics director at NDSU.
He ran speech and debate tournaments for years.
He published dozens of research articles on forensics.
He coached high school coaches. He had summer camps.
He has done just about everything when it comes to speech and debate. Littlefield is already a member of the National Speech and Debate Association Hall of Fame.
"When I do something, I try to do my best," Littlefield said. "And I just think forensics are so important to young people. We should be emphasizing speech and debate to them."
"Being in speech and debate is empowering," Littlefield said. "It allows students to experience thinking in ways that are meaningful. It forces them to think critically by being in these activities, and that is important. We don't do enough of that these days.
"Too many people turn to their website or source information, whichever one they prefer, and just accept what they get. There's no attempt to question whether what they are reading or seeing is true. Being in speech and debate gives you the experience of thinking."
There can be no debate critical thinking is in short supply in the United States these days.
Littlefield joins Jack Brown, Phil Jackson, Sheryl Solberg, Sid Cichy, Jerry Popp, Del Gab and Dick Schindler as North Dakotans in the National High School Hall of Fame.
"They are all sports people. I'll be the only one who isn't," Littlefield said.
Again, Littlefield stands out. He should wear that as a badge of honor.