Pacific captures national speech and debate title

Group photo of debate team

University of the Pacific’s storied success in speech and debate now includes another prestigious honor: champion in the 2022 National Parliamentary Debate Association national tournament for the first time.

Pacific competed virtually March 25-27 against some of the best speech and debate programs in the nation, including University of California, Berkeley, University of Oregon and Rice University.

In additional to the national title, Pacific secured first place for season-long performance in the open division and also won the top speaker award at the tournament. 

Speech and debate competition consists of three divisions: open, junior and novice. The most experienced debaters—such as Pacific’s—participate in the open division. Teams also accumulate points for top-four finishes throughout the season. 

"Capturing first overall is huge because it validates the vision and structure of our team that values all students: scholarship recipients, walk-ons, transfer students, etc.,” said Director of Forensics Steven Kalani Farias ’09, ’11. "We talk about the team as a family, and this championship represents everyone pulling for each other."

Arshita Sandhiparthi ’22, a double major in computer science and political science, won the James "Al" Johnson Top Speaker Award as the best overall competitor in eight preliminary rounds. This is the first time a Pacific forensics competitor has won the award since 1965.
"Winning the top speaker award is the result of hard work, support from my team and alumni  and the help my coaches provided over the last four years,” said Sandhiparthi. “All that I have received from being on the team was essential to success in this tournament." 

Pacific President Christopher Callahan said the speech and debate program’s rich history—dating back to the late 1950s--is a point of pride for the university, and provides tremendous learning opportunities for students from any major or program.

“We are extremely proud of the team’s accomplishments and for continuing the tradition of excellence in Pacific speech and debate,” Callahan said. “This national championship is a great honor for the university and a testament to the students’ excellence.” 

Student teammates who contributed to the national championship were:

•    Sandhiparthi ’22 and Tierra Smithson ’22: 5-3 preliminary record, seventh place finish overall
•    Joel Brown ’23 and Gustavo Garcia ’22: 5-3 preliminary record, 12th place finish
•    Paula Paez ’22 and Jonathan Reyes ’23: 4-4 preliminary record, 16th place finish
•    Angelica Guzman ’24 and Diego Paez ’22: 4-4 preliminary record

“Competing for the Pacific forensics team played an integral role in my decision to come to Pacific,” Tierra Smithson said. “I competed in speech and debate in high school and ultimately decided to come to Pacific because I heard great things about the program, the support students receive, and that Pacific was a powerhouse in the region.”

Transfer student Gustavo Garcia '22, says, "Competing at Pacific had been a goal of mine since I went to Pacific's debate camp in 2018. Pacific's team showed a level of inclusion and camaraderie that made you want to join, and I am glad that I did."

The team enjoyed success despite the challenges caused by COVID-19, which forced tournaments to be held virtually. 

"It's especially heartening as a coach to see a group of students who have all had to adapt to competing online and learning our system at Pacific,” said Farias. "These students did not balk at the long hours practicing online, let alone competing, and they truly earned this championship.”

Next up for Pacific: the National Forensics Association's national tournament April 13-18—an in-person event at Illinois State University.