Debate State Champions


Seniors Jacob Mathew, Joy Lee, Katie Rodriguez and Owen Miller pose with their champion plaque.

Story by Sarah Alcantar

Seniors Owen Miller, Katie Rodriguez, Joy Lee and Jacob Mathew became the first ever Pittsburg High School debaters to win the 5A State Debate Championship at the 5A 2-Speaker State Debate Tournament. 

“We are one of the smallest 5A schools competing at state and the other schools have many resources we do not,” head Debate coach Julie Laflen said. “I just love being able to show others around the state what these kids are capable of. It takes talent and hard work to earn a state championship, and that’s exactly what these kids [have].”

For these four students, winning state was not only impactful to themselves but also for the debate legacy of students to come.

“The fact that this was our last debate tournament ever, throughout all four years, it was a really nice pay off,” Lee said. “By winning state, we show the underclassmen that it is possible that a small community school like Pittsburg can win state.”

The team earned this honor of being state champions, despite facing challenges new to them. 

“This was my first time competing with Owen Miller [this year],” Rodriguez said. “Our first round, we lost and I got the four, which is the worst speaker point you can get. That was a wake-up call for me. It was a really stressful moment because I didn’t want it to be like that for the rest of the tournament, but we took that loss, easily adjusted and made it work.”

The teams competed in a total of eight debate rounds with both teams ending records being 7-1, leading them into the semi-finals. Both teams won their semi-final round on a 3-0 decision, making these seniors the 5A State Debate Co-Champions. 

“Winning a State Debate Championship is just like winning it in basketball or football – you have to beat everyone else to make it to finals and then the last team standing wins,” Laflen said. “I want people to recognize that this isn’t just one team who achieved this honor, we were the only two teams left, which is something that very few schools ever get to say.”