SM East debaters ‘close out’ 6A tournament, taking both champion and runner-up titles

SM East's state champion and runner up debaters: (from left) Bhavish Dinakar, Ali Dastjerdi, Henry Walter, and Shrushti Mehta.
SM East’s state champion and runner up debaters: (from left) Bhavish Dinakar, Ali Dastjerdi, Henry Walter, and Shrushti Mehta.

In November, SM East’s football program showed that the school has brawn. On Saturday, its debaters showed it has plenty of brains, as well.

SM East’s debate program achieved a feat at the 6A two-speaker state tournament this weekend that is unprecedented outside Lancer debaters. The school “closed out” the tournament, with its top two teams taking both the state championship and the state runner up titles. The only other time a 6A school has had teams take both the first and second spots was when SM East did it back in 2002.

SM East’s top-seeded team of Ali Dastjerdi and Henry Walter took the championship plaque while schoolmates Shrushti Mehta and Bhavish Dinakar, who were seeded fourth in the tournament, took second. The two SM East teams beat out approximately 70 teams from 6A schools across the state at the tournament at Derby High School for the honor.

Coach Trey Witt opted not to have the two teams actually face each other after they advanced to the title round, instead invoking a rule that allows the final standings to be determined by seeding if two teams from the same school would have to debate against each other in the final round.

“The rule is there to make sure you don’t get any strife or animosity among the teams from the same school,” Witt said.

The state title victory means a repeat for SM East. Last year, as juniors, Dastjerid and Mehta debated together and took the title in the two-speaker division. In 2013, SM East won the four-speaker division.

Witt said he thought closing out might be a possibility for this year’s program, given the talent among the two-person teams.

“But so much can happen anywhere along the way,” he said. “There are 11 rounds in the tournament, so you have to have teams performing the whole way.”

Dastjerdi and Walter went undefeated through the six preliminary rounds.

“People ask me who the best team I’ve ever coached is,” Witt said. “And it’s hard to say who is ‘best.’ But to be objective, they are definitely the most winning team I’ve coached.”

This year’s national debate topic was, “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its non-military exploration and/or development of the Earth’s oceans.”