BHS Speech and Debate wins States, Nationals in championship

The Berkeley High School Speech and Debate team set a record this April, winning both the Tournament of Champions and the California State Championships.


The Berkeley High School Speech and Debate team set a record this April, winning both the Tournament of Champions (TOC) and the California State Championships. This is the first time that BHS has won the California State Championships and marks the first instance for a school to have won both the TOC and the California State Championships since the start of the National Parliamentary Debate League’s Tournament of Champions.

Isaac Grolnic-McClurg, who won TOC with his partner Jacob Goldman, shared how the results of their victory surprised him and how it gave him affirmation for the work they put into speech and debate.

“I was initially very shocked,” Grolnic-McClurg said, “It took me like six hours or so to fully process it. I initially wasn’t even super happy, I think because I was like, well, it’s not really real in a sense. And I ended up feeling really great about it at the end of the day. (It was) affirming a lot of things about my own ability and, how our school teachers debate, and the way we go about it. It was a very good feeling in the end.”

Grolnic-McClurg described his experience at TOC, sharing how there was not much diversity in terms of participants, but he was happy to meet people he had debated against in the past. 

“I mean, it was always a little weird because debate doesn’t always attract the most representative population overall. And then nationals are, arguably, even more elitist in a sense. So, a lot of the people at nationals are from private high schools. Despite that, I think it was still really nice. It’s really cool to see a lot of people that I’ve already been against online, … and it was good to meet people, so that was a pretty good atmosphere,” Grolnic-McClurg said. 

Amber Safir, who won the California State Championships with her partner Zachary Yoo and also participated in TOC, shared how she felt going into both tournaments.

“I was definitely really nervous. Debate can be a really stressful environment because basically, what you’re doing is you’re just arguing with people all the time. And it’s very high adrenaline because you get your topic, and then you have very limited time to prepare. It’s just everything’s happening really fast,” Safir said. 

According to her, the achievement was very rewarding but also emphasized how, as a team, their motivations towards debate extend beyond just winning. 

“It’s really exciting. It makes us all happy. But it also doesn’t mean that much… What we love about debate isn’t winning. It’s the other stuff and learning. (For) all of the varsity people, we’re really excited when we win. But most of us honestly care more about teaching the novices. So while it’s super cool, and you get to show off and get bragging rights and stuff, that’s also not really what debate is about and what we care about most,” Safir said. 

The BHS Speech and Debate team’s head debate coach, Joel Jacobs, revealed how students prepared for the events. 

“Well, for the national championship, there were topic areas that they released in advance,” Jacobs said, “so normally, they don’t know what they’ll be debating. But they knew that at the Tournament of Champions, there would be a debate about Nigeria and a debate about US food policy, so we spent some time practicing debating about those areas and talked a little bit about some of the issues that might come up.” He added that much practice involves tasks such as building on skills, understanding the rules, learning different debate theories, and establishing organization.  

Hunter Valencia, the assistant and on-site debate coach for the team, shared how he hopes the team will try new debate formats to build an even stronger team for future competitions. 

“One of the future goals that I really want to see in this team is, it’s similar to track and field where there’s many different events. Berkeley High School is incredibly good at one particular one, which is parliamentary debate. I would really love to diversify the events and start to get the people interested in speech and getting them interested in another format called world schools, and just kind of turning the program into a true powerhouse,” Valencia said.