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Student Debaters Win National Championship

By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs
Posted March 22, 2000

Berkeley is this year's national champion in college parliamentary debate, thanks to the performance of its 25-member speech team throughout the season.

Three of Cal's speech-debate teams were among the highest scoring debaters at a national tournament last weekend in Omaha, Neb. The entire team's performance gave the campus a cumulative score for the season that outranked 288 other colleges and universities in the National Parliamentary Debate Association.

"It is a triumph for a forensic team that is all but completely run and funded by the students themselves," said Genaro Padilla, vice chancellor for undergraduate affairs.

The campus's forensics program raises money by holding the Cal Invitational, a three-day forensics tournament for high school students that draws more than 1,000 students from throughout the country to Berkeley each year. The $45,000 proceeds from that event -- the largest high school tournament in the country -- support the campus's entire forensics program, which includes traditional debate and individual speech events.

In addition, this year, the family of one debater, Karson Kalashian, contributed $10,000 for the speech team to travel to several national tournaments they missed last year for lack of funds.

Besides travel, the gift was used to increase the size of the team, raising Berkeley's standing from ninth last year, to first.

"The only reason we could do as much as much as we did was because of Karson and his father. We are very grateful to them," said Che Johnson, director of forensics, who is an undergraduate in political science.

Johnson, himself a national winner in parliamentary debate, led the speech team to victory in debate tournaments that are completely extemporaneous. Debaters have only 15 minutes to prepare for topics that may range from expanding NATO membership to campaign finance reform or the pros and cons of individual rights versus community rights. They have no idea beforehand what the debate topic will be.

This style of debating, carried out by the speech team, contrasts with traditional debate in which the topic is known by everyone for a year. Berkeley's traditional debate team is competing currently in national competition in Kansas.



March 22 - April 5, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 26)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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