Rebuilding Year? More Like National Championship Year for SMC’s Macken Debate and Speech Team

In March, two first-year Gaels—Jasper Pacheco ’27 and Luis Mora ’27—won the “Novice” division of the National Parliamentary Debate Association Championship Tournament. And the Macken team scored enough points to rank 11th in the nation.

by SMC Office of Marketing & Communications | April 15, 2024

On Thursday, March 14, the fourteen sleep-deprived members of Saint Mary’s Macken Debate and Speech Team hopped on an early morning flight from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, Utah, where the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) Championship Tournament was being held. Victory was not necessarily top of mind for the team. Midterm exams would begin the following Monday. By the time they boarded their return flight, however, two first-year Gaels—Jasper Pacheco ’27 and Luis Mora ’27—were national champions. 

Winning just a single round of parliamentary debate is no small feat. The format pits two teams of two—the Proposition and the Opposition—against each other on a variety of topics, often political. Its volleying structure is inspired by that of the British Parliament, and can get just as heated (although powdered wigs are rarely worn, if ever). 

Macken Debate Team at 2024 NPDA Tournament in Utah
The Macken Debate and Speech Team at the 2024 NPDA Championship Tournament. Back row, from left: Coach Andrea Brown, Logan Goldstein ’24, Coach Kendall Mead, Ava Peters ’27, Kathy Barajas ’24, Sam Goodman ’25, Molly Floberg ’26, Gavin Hussain ’27, and Adrian Lossada ’26. Front row, from left: Luis Mora ’27, Jasper Pacheco ’27, Elliott Schulze ’26, and Alan Fishman. / Photo courtesy Macken Speech and Debate Team

After scoring high in multiple rounds, Pacheco and Mora won the “Novice” division at the NPDA Championship Tournaments, beating out dozens of first-year college competitors from around the country. Additionally, the Macken team racked up enough points during the school year to be ranked 11th in the nation. 

“Not bad for a ‘rebuilding year,’” says Daniel Cochese Davis, an assistant professor of Communication who has helped coach the team. Over the course of this academic year, Head Debate Coach Andrea Brown—assisted by Alan Fishman, a former debate student of Brown's, and Davis—has developed largely new-to-debate students like Pacheo and Mora into a cohesive and formidable team. After the March win, it seems practice paid off. 

It was wonderful to be around such smart novices and see the potential our team has,” says History major Logan Goldstein ’24, who has competed with the Macken team for three years and graduates in May. “I know we’re in good hands, thinking Luis and Jasper are going to be here, and will stay. I’m happy!”

Novice Duo

The NPDA win was a first for Luis Mora, and a surprising one. Prior to SMC, he says, “I had absolutely zero previous experiences with debate.” 

A Business Administration major, Mora first learned about Macken Speech and Debate at the SMC Club Fair. He started attending practices and, within a matter of weeks, found himself filling in for a teammate at an Oregon tournament. “It was definitely trial by fire,” he says. But it was also thrilling and rewarding. “I began to realize that there was a lot of room for internal growth, in terms of being able to articulate myself better and using my critical thinking skills.”

Luis Mora and Jasper Pacheco
Luis Mora, left, and Jasper Pacheco are both new to parliamentary debate, or “parlay,” but have quickly grown to love it. Compared to other debate formats, Pacheco says, parlay is "really up to the abilities of the debaters.” / Photos by Richard Trinh '24

Mora’s debate partner, Jasper Pacheco, a Philosophy major, is no stranger to thinking through ideas aloud. In high school, Pacheco (who uses they/them pronouns) took part in every forensic speech competition they could. “I was always confident with my speaking skills—maybe too confident,” they say. 

Still, Pacheco had never tried debate before Saint Mary’s. It’s a different but related skillset: Whereas speech relies heavily on performance and theatricality, debate calls for extensive research, teamwork, and above all, adaptability. Pacheco quickly warmed to debate’s rapid-fire back-and-forth. They started winning “novice” competitions, too. 

“This semester, I got paired up with Luis, which is the point I started to really, really, really get into debate,” Pacheco says. And the NDPA Championship Tournament in Utah was the duo’s biggest test yet. 

“It was everything.”

Parliamentary debate is a unique form of debate, and an intimidating one. “The biggest Ivy League schools tend to not go to NPDA, because they prefer styles of debate where you can ‘prep’ out everything,” Pacheco explains. In formats like Lincoln-Douglas or Policy Debate, students spend up to a whole year researching a topic. The big schools have the resources to fund robust coaching and preparation, so they frequently win those formats.

By contrast, parliamentary debate, or “parlay,” requires participants to think on their feet. “Parlay is way scrappier,” Pacheco says. “It’s really up to the abilities of the debaters.” 

At NPDA, Mora and Pacheco were up against dozens of novice competitors from heavyweight debate schools like UC Berkeley and Rice University in Texas. The intensity of the competition was “emotionally and physically draining,” Mora says. 

And winning? “It was everything.” 

Jasper Pacheco and Luis Mora prepping in a classroom
Jasper Pacheco and Luis Mora in Garaventa Hall, where the Macken Team practices weekly. Mora sees a debate as a way to make a difference, in his own life and the world: “I have a voice, and obviously, it’s good enough to win nationals. Maybe I should do something good with that.” / Photo by Richard Trinh '24

At the end of the NPDA championship final round, the two top teams were allowed to thank those who helped them get there. Expressing gratitude for the coaching staff and others, Pacheco shared what SMC’s Macken Debate team has offered them. “Sometimes it’s hard to fit in,” they acknowledged. “When I went to the debate space, I could just be there, and I felt supported to an extent that I didn’t have access to anywhere else…

“That makes debate the place I want to be and I want to stay.”

Using Their Voices

When the team shared the good news with John Macken ’62—the retired physicist, entrepreneur, and former SMC Trustee for whom the team is named after—he offered his congratulations and encouragement. Debate had played a pivotal role in his professional success, he told them, even in physics. “Having that public speaking and critical thinking experience puts you a half-step ahead of everyone else in the room, both competitors and coworkers.”  

The evidence appears to support Macken’s assessment. Nationally, debate training is considered excellent preparation for the LSAT, the notoriously difficult law school entrance test, as well as law school itself. 

"When I went to the debate space, I could just be there,” says Jasper Pacheco, “and I felt supported to an extent that I didn’t have access to anywhere else… That makes debate the place I want to be and I want to stay.”

Both Mora and Pacheco see law as a potential path for them. Before they both can tackle the LSAT, however, they and the rest of the Macken team have a more immediate challenge: the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence Championships in April. In this competition, there will be no novice division; instead, Pacheco, Mora, and teammates will be going round-for-round with students who have been competing for up to four years. 

Both Pacheco and Mora welcome the challenge. Mora sees the debate tournament, and the Macken team in general, as an opportunity for self-betterment—and, perhaps, a way to make the world better, too. 

“I feel some responsibility to speak up about the issues that matter to me, on campus and around the world,” he says. “I mean, I have a voice, and obviously, it’s good enough to win nationals. Maybe I should do something good with that.”


Want to join the Macken Debate and Speech Team?  Contact coach Andrea Brown at (925) 631-4250, stop by the office, Garaventa Hall 221, or email