Macken Debate and Speech Team Reaches Great Heights

The Macken Debate and Speech TeamOne of Saint Mary’s most successful competitive teams doesn’t play on a court or a field. Instead, the members argue in classrooms all across the country. 

The Macken Debate and Speech Team, named after John Macken, the team’s generous benefactor who often supports the team at local tournaments, is having one of its winningest seasons in Parliamentary and Policy debate. 

Parliamentary debate, a demanding format where students get 20 minutes to prepare for a new topic every round, has been the team’s flagship event for the past decade. Recently, the team dipped its toes into Policy debate, the eminent format. In Policy, teams prepare evidence on both sides for a single yearlong topic. 

At the beginning of the season in Parliamentary debate, the team of Maya Szafraniec ’19 and Marielle Gardner ’19 held its own against students from teams all across the Bay Area. Gardner and Szafraniec won the top prize in the Golden Gate Opener at San Francisco State University in September, beating out a team from the University of California, Berkeley, which is often the favorite to win. No strangers to winning, Gardner and Szafraniec also attained second place at a tournament in Northridge last month. 

Another highlight of the season for the pair was advancing to playoff rounds in the Golden Gate Invitational in Berkeley in October. This is one of the most competitive Parliamentary tournaments of the semester, and even experienced teams have trouble making it to elimination rounds. However, after garnering a winning record, Szafraniec and Gardner were able to beat the odds and advance.

Szafraniec and Gardner have seen great success this past semester, making it to playoff/elimination rounds at nearly every tournament they have traveled to. Their success has garnered them a ranking of third best parliamentary debate team in the nation this year according to the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) rankings. 

The team’s success does not stop there. Ojawsi Sharma ’22 and Isabel Jeronimo ’20 have been able to break into playoff rounds in Open/Varsity Parliamentary debate—a huge accomplishment for Sharma, a first-year student. Sharma and Jeronimo made it to the semifinal round at the Golden Gate Opener in San Francisco in September.

In Policy debate, Luke Perez ’19 and Kathryn Magee ’21 have held their own in a new debate format for Saint Mary’s. Last season, in November 2017, Magee and Perez took first place in Junior Varsity Policy debate—an amazing achievement for a debate program that has been doing Policy debate for less than three years. This season, Magee and Perez have been racking up speaker awards for their strong arguments and evidence. At Northridge last month, Magee and Perez made it through elimination rounds and went all the way to semifinals. 

The Macken Debate and Speech team also places great importance on Novice debate. Coach Matthew Swanson and the other team members make sure to welcome novices with open arms. This past season, debate novices have been able to dominate in their division. At Lewis and Clark College, novices Rita Anderson ’20 and Brett Austin ’22 won second place in the tournament. Remarkably, Marielle Gardner started off as a novice on the team during the 2016–2017 season, and after several rounds of development and practice, she and her partner, Szafraniec, have been able to climb the ranks in parliamentary debate. 

For more information about the Macken Debate and Speech team, visit its website at or contact coach Matthew Swanson at