Stanley Day officially is an electronics and history teacher at Wheaton High School. But his real passion comes in his work as the coordinator of the school's 25-member debate and forensic speech team.

He spends four hours a day after school through much of the year working with the students, travels with them on weekends, stays up with them into the early hours of the morning just before a big meet, helps solicit funds for the team and contributes about half of the $17,000 annual budget himself.

Some of his colleagues chide him for devoting so much time and energy to an "after-school" activity, but Day said there is a purpose behind his passion.

"I'm a strong believer that you have to put your money where your mouth is," he said. "Extracurricular activities are very important to the overall educational development of the students, and besides, I really love it."

Wheaton's debate team has qualified to send students to the National Forensic League Tournaments 17 times in the 19 years that Day, 48, has advised the team. The students have won 57 awards in various categories, according to Day.

Joseph Dalton, principal of Wheaton, praised Day's work. "I know we have one of the best debate teams in the area and we are very proud of their achievements," he said. "And it's good to know that the students are being trained by one of the best debate coaches in the country."

Dalton pointed out that Day is one of two debate coaches in Maryland to receive the Diamond Key Award, a national commendation given to coaches of outstanding debate teams across the country.

"What I like most is working directly with the intellect, and it's a tremendous challenge for the students and I'm very proud of them," Day said. "Most of the kids on the team are involved in other academic activities.

"All the stuff that education is pushing is higher thinking skills. It takes the kids who are intellectually gifted in speech to be competitive and excel in debate. That type of training simply cannot be done in a 45-minute class," he said.

To the students on the team, Day's deep-rooted devotion is evident, and they are quick to say that his efforts are important in developing their skills.

"He's dedicated for sure," said Wyatt Lee, a junior who has debated with the team for a year. "On the outside he tries to put on a gruff exterior, but once you get to know him, he's really a nice man."

Lee said the debating experience is "helping me to be a more persuasive person. In debate, you have to get a point across succinctly in a limited amount of time."

Vikram Mangalmurti, 16, said: "I was very meek before joining the team a year ago, and it helped to build my confidence."

Mangalmurti said: "School is more than book knowledge . . . . It's for experiencing life. We get to travel and speak in depth on subjects that we just touch upon in class. You get a chance to experience people and life."

Last year, team member Michael Preston, a senior at Wheaton, won second place in a tournament sponsored by the National Forensic League, an honors society for speech and debate activities. He competed in 13 rounds against more than 1,600 students nationwide.

Preston said that although Day sometimes gives the impression that "he doesn't care," Day's actions speak louder than words.

"He's just a big marshmallow inside. He's clearly one of the most dedicated coaches in the county," Preston said. "Most coaches have set hours {that they spend with students}, but before tournaments, he will stay until 1 or 2 in the morning working with us. He has instilled in us the desire to excel and to succeed."

Day said that schools traditionally give heavy support for athletic programs and that principals and administrators across the country are engaging in their own debate about the educational value of extracurricular activities.

He contends that what goes on outside the classroom structure is "important," and that the school, family and community are responsible for cultivating a well-rounded education.

Day said the team's biggest problem is gaining financial support. After coaching, teaching and traveling, Day spends a large portion of his time justifying and soliciting funding from either the county school system or group fund-raising events. "We got tired of selling coffee and doughnuts. It just wasn't bringing in enough revenue," Day said. "I think most people don't consider this activity to be significant, which is an annoying thing."

Day said he was motivated to support the team financially after an incident two years ago, when a very talented student could not afford to pay for the tournament activities. "I didn't want that to be the reason this kid couldn't join," he said.

He said his personal contributions, which are used to supplement the team's annual budget, significantly lessen the expenses that otherwise would be passed on to team members. "A lot of parents in the community can't afford to finance their children for some of these events, but I think that any child who goes to school and then goes home and does nothing else is at a clear disadvantage," he said.

Day said "Uncle," a title given to him by the team members because of his genuine concern yet forceful manner, is a fairly accurate description of his character.

"I push these kids because the only way you can excel is when heavy demands are placed on you," he said. "I think every kid should get involved in something more than just school."