The school year may be only two-and-a-half months old, but it’s already been a memorable season for the Ashland High School speech and debate team.

The three-time defending state champion Grizzlies sent six team members to New Haven, Connecticut, for an event at Yale University in September, hosted a novice tournament attended by seven schools trying out debate for the first time Oct. 1, captured a slew of first-place trophies at tournaments in Coos Bay and Salem and, most recently, hosted the fifth annual Grizzly Invitational Nov. 3-4.

“For us, (the Grizzly Invitational) was our second novice tournament,” Ashland speech and debate coach Mat Marr said. “We have two tournaments in the beginning of the year that our novices compete at and it was really great to see that the novices had worked hard on speech — this was our focus.”

Ashland’s less-experienced members showed promise while raking in plaques at the Grizzly Invitational, and Marr was particularly encouraged by Claire Glassford’s after-dinner speaking victory, as well as the solid performance by McKenzie Baratta and Kylah Ward, who teamed up for wins in both novice dual interpretation and parliamentary debate.

Also shining for Ashland at the Grizzly Invite were Dylan Kistler and Rio Giancarlo (first place, varsity big questions), Maya Livni (first place, varsity expository), Thatcher Houghton (second place, novice radio), Madi Vann (second place, varsity program oral interpretation) and Jade Loey (second place, novice dramatic interpretation).

Ashland also hosted a parliamentary-only event Nov. 5 called the State of Jefferson, and cleaned up there as well, sweeping to victories in both the varsity and junior varsity divisions. In varsity, Maya Davis and Kistler were co-champions, along with teammates Hannah Doyle and Alex Webb. In junior varsity, Baratta and Ward were named co-champions along with teammates Ellis Pryor and Cameron Stein.

“We just had some young kids that did fabulous,” Marr said Friday of the State of Jefferson event. “And that was a parliamentary debate-only tournament, so it could be very interesting to see how this weekend goes.”

Marr was referring to Ashland’s weekend trip to Berkeley, California, for the National Parliamentary Debate Invitational.

No matter how things go for the Grizzlies at Berkeley, it’ll be hard to top their East coast swing in September, a roadie that included a tour of Yale University courtesy of AHS alum Jackson Richmond (class of 2015), a tour of Columbia University, a stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and a surprisingly eventful tour of the United Nations headquarters, also in the Big Apple.

“That day,” explained Marr of the U.N. tour, “North Korea had launched a projectile over Japan, and so while we were in the Security Council they said, ‘You’re actually the last tour for the day. Japan has called an emergency meeting at the security council to discuss this, so we’re going to shut this place down and bring in security.’ It was a week before Trump gave his 'fire and fury' speech there.”

Marr said six Grizzlies, one parent and himself signed up for the Yale trip, and the tournament itself proved to be as eye-opening as the other stops. Its sheer size was impressive. More than 2,000 students from 31 states participated, and the Grizzlies — adapting to the East Coast parliamentary style — held their own. Webb, the student coordinator, Doyle, Annika Larson, Sarah Aaronson, Sienna Scoggin and Lilli Morrish won 11 rounds of debate and lost only five.

“The style of debate at Yale was pretty different, but I think it just showed us how important it can be to be able to adapt and be versatile with your skills,” Webb said.

Marr agreed.

“We did well, but I think if we went again we’d do even better,” he said. “We did extremely well considering that it was our first East Coast trip. The debate topics are a little more esoteric, I guess you would say. Less policy oriented and more big value questions. It was a huge tournament, too — probably the second biggest tournament that we will go to this year outside of nationals. Only Stanford is bigger.”

The Grizzlies’ schedule only picks up in pace after Stanford. They’ll head to San Jose for a tournament Nov. 17-19, then it’s off to events in Portland, Medford, Eugene and Central Point in December. Later, Ashland is slated to compete in Portland again, Tacoma, Washington, Palo Alto, California, Grants Pass and Monmouth, among other stops.

Marr said this year’s team is younger than previous versions, but very dedicated and talented. The team leadership this season includes three sophomores, which is unusual. Also, Marr this season created a parent booster organization that helps recruit judges and chaperone events. He singled out parents Susan Aaronson, Candace Doyle and Matt Richards for their help.

Updates for the Ashland speech and debate team can be found on its Facebook page at

“They’re working hard, traveling to a lot of events,” Marr said of his team. “We have larger groups going to California than in the past, and they really care about each other and are learning a lot from each experience.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.