Burbank Students Participate in California Speech and Debate State Tournament

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Coach Brandon Batham with the winners

This weekend, the capricious weather experienced by Burbankians, sunny one day and pouring the next, was also felt by a group of Burbank High School students as they traveled up to Fresno for the annual California Speech and Debate state tournament, orchestrated by CHSSA, the California High School Speech Association. 

A group of 12 students, Delia Sawatzki, Edna Yeghnanyan, Diego Gonzalez, Heesung Lee, Nare Sheroyan, Grace and Gwyneth Glover, Emily Chamichyan, Alexis Bell, Jadon Chung, Manuel Leon, and Noemi Dilanchian, all had to qualify in their respective events in order to earn a competing slot at the most anticipated tournament in the state. Accompanied by their coach. Brandon Batham and his wife, Cat Tamsky, took to the road and, four hours later, arrived at what would be, for some of them, their last tournament ever. 

Spirits were high as the group settled into the team Airbnb, satiated by their stop at Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace. All around the house, students were reciting speeches to one another, with some even talking to the walls, and debaters were finalizing cases before their first two rounds of the weekend. It was a time of great anxiety to be a public school competing against the most well-funded and established private debate programs in the state, and each student went into the tournament well aware of those financial discrepancies. 

Edna and Diego were competing for the last time together in a parliamentary debate before Diego completed his senior year. Within that event, teams of two have twenty minutes to prepare a case based on a motion and side they are given. The teams in the chilled preparatory room of Clovis North High School were the top 64 parliamentary duos in all of California, and the top 16 of those after four preliminary rounds would advance to the eliminations. After a tiresome two days of competition, Diego and Edna placed in the top 16 teams and broke into elimination rounds. They dropped in the octofinals round, the farthest any debate team at Burbank High School has gone for over 20 years. These two also saw other victories this year, placing in the top 10 speakers and octofinals at the Berkeley Invitational, quarterfinals at the Stanford Invitational, and with Edna qualifying to debate at nationals with a hybrid team, West Los Angeles Violets. 

Gwyneth Glover, a freshman who has had a very successful year competing in her respective speech event, dramatic interpretation(DI), finished off her victory lap at states. DI is a tough competition in which students clip together a 9-10 minute dramatic acting piece of their choosing, with Gwyneth reenacting her rendition of the “Free Churro” episode from Bojack Horseman. Her talent and dedication placed her in the semifinals and 11th place at State, 9th place at the Berkeley Invitational, 3rd at Stanford, and 1st at a local Peninsula Invitational. She was also the first at Burbank High to advance to elimination rounds in speech since her coach Brandon Batham, and he’s…well… prehistoric. Fun fact: Paul Rudd used to do humorous interpretation, an event very similar to DI. If this is everything Gwyneth accomplished as a freshman, keep a lookout for her on the big screen in a few years!

Overall, the weekend was a historical moment for Burbank’s speech and debate program. The success will leave a lasting legacy on Burbank, and here’s to hoping they break their own records next year! However, as the 2 hour long awards were being held, there was one obvious elephant in the room: the same schools, from the same affluent areas, and the same private programs kept winning. Public school competitors are well aware of the discrepancies between their programs and private ones, but seeing it in real time was incredibly disillusioning. 109 competitors in all events advanced to the finals round, and 67 of them were from the Bay Area, one of the most affluent regions in California. Most of the champions announced were from private schools and had their names followed by their 5 or 6 coaches, which seemed unreal to the Burbank team that heavily relies on one volunteer coach. 

While it would be a truism to state that economic disparities exist, the gap in speech and debate, an event that advocates for the inclusion of all and opportunity for all, has been scaringly widening. Public school kids find it so difficult to compete against teams that have multiple coaches, all knowledgeable on a myriad of topics, and some who are even willing to write a student’s case for them. However, all hope is not lost. The Burbank team’s success the past weekend and the success of alumni Sungjoo Yoon and Mihika Chechi should be a signal to all students of public schools out there that accomplishments and victories are possible for them. 

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