Speech and Debate

From its beginnings, SI has had a proud tradition of argumentation and public speaking. The student forums and debate teams did well in past decades, and in the 1960s, students in the SI Forum continued to excel under the guidance of former Jesuit Charles Henry ’38. In the 1962–63 school year, for instance, students who excelled included seniors Gerry London, Rick Del Bonta, Paul Vangelisti and Robert Carson — the latter two well-known poets — juniors David Mezzera and John Scalia and sophomores Frank Gollop and Eugene Payne. The debate team of Mezzera and Scalia “merited not only state acclaim but also national recognition,” according to the Ignatian, and SI received an invitation for the first time in its history to attend the Georgetown University Debate Tournament along with two dozen other schools in the country. In their senior year, both Mezzera and Scalia debated in the National Tournament in Akron, Ohio. Mezzera returned to SI in 1970 to teach public speaking and moderate the SI Forum. In the 1970s, SI sent speakers and debate teams to compete in the nationals every year except 1973 and 1979. In 1972, seniors Stephen Schori and Gerald Posner (the author of Case Closed and many other books) took third in the National Forensic League finals at Wake Forest University.

The Ignatian & Inside SI

Inside SI started a new tradition in 1963 when Fr. John Becker took over as moderator. He would continue in that role (with the exception of a few years) until 1975. In 1963, the school received a donated press and, with the addition of more equipment in 1967, students began producing the newspaper in-house. They typeset the magazine, made negatives from the pages using a process camera, burnt plates using a carbon arc, printed full-color pages and bound and trimmed the issues. The magazine covered the controversies of the day that ranged from the Block Club being an elitist organization to the Student Council being a do-nothing organization.

The Ignatian continued to excel in the 1960s, with the 1964 yearbook including color pages for the first time. One yearbook generated discussion that continued for years. In 1967, the yearbook staff produced a large, linen-covered tome that contained beautiful black and white photographs and almost no text. Students and teachers either loved it or hated it. The young scholastic in charge, Dennis Alvernaz, and editor Richard Robinson ’67, had one thought in mind while working on it. “We wanted to create a family album,” said Alvernaz, now a retired Catholic priest. “You don’t find captions in a family photo album. In those days, we felt like a family. It was a wonderful time, just before the decline of everything. It was the last hurrah of the WWII generation and their children, and a spirit of camaraderie filled the halls.”

To produce a larger book, both in terms of format and page count, Robinson, Alvernaz and their staff (including ace photographer Vince Piantaneda ’69) stretched their budget by learning to develop their own film and make their own prints. They used a small darkroom on campus and drove a few miles to a public darkroom to rent facilities. They also did their own layouts and turned in camera-ready art to the yearbook company.

They began their book with a 16-page photo essay that included some of the only text (aside from names) found in the document. In it, Alvernaz offered this wisdom: “It was better, he [Christ] thought, to fail in attempting exquisite things than to succeed in the department of the utterly contemptible.” Alvernaz hoped that the introduction would spiritually challenge students and ask them to be self-critical.

Because of the mixed reaction to the nearly wordless yearbook, Alvernaz returned to a more traditional tome for the 1968 edition with editor Bob Cooney ’68. He and Cooney later collaborated on two more unusual yearbooks, this time at SCU where Cooney was yearbook editor and Alvernaz, once again, moderator, while studying theology at Alma College. The two published yearboxes — boxes in which students would find several spiral-bound books.

Rocket Club

In the fall of 1961, SI students formed the Rocket Club, moderated by chemistry teacher Horace MacPherson “Mac” Buley. Club members spent the first six months experimenting with various fuel mixes and named their first rocket the TR1 in honor of Principal Tom Reed, SJ. They launched that rocket in May 1962 in Nevada. (California law prohibited vertical rocket launches, so the boys experimented with horizontal flights in San Francisco and traveled to Nevada to see if their machines had the right stuff.) While the first stage of that May launch was successful, the second stage blew up after traveling 1,000 feet high. They planned an October launch with a mouse and a parachute ejection system “so that we can recover him,” reported the October 5, 1962, Inside SI. Then, on January 18, 1963, the club launched a six-foot rocket a mile high into space, making it the “second largest amateur solid fuel rocket ever fired in the U.S.” They worked on another rocket, dubbed “Big Mac” after their moderator. It stood 18 feet high and included two stages and a nose cone with a guidance system that students could control from the ground.9


Peter Devine, who performed in many of the plays in the 1960s, recalled that all the plays at SI were done with an all-male cast until 1964. “I was in the last all-male show, Little Mary Sunshine, performing the role of Madame Ernestine in the spring of 1964.” In the fall of 1964, Fr. Bill Breault, SJ, the new drama director, wrote to Rome to ask permission for women to be allowed to act in plays at SI. He received permission, and the first show to feature actresses was Charlie’s Aunt,which, added Devine, “is about a guy who dresses as his aunt to fool the girls into thinking they have a chaperone.” It also starred SI fine arts teacher Katie Wolf, who was then a junior at St. Rose Academy and whose mother, Jean Wolf, was costume designer at SI.

“Once the shows became coed, the musicals started growing in size,” Devine added. In 1965, SI staged an original musical, Margo and Me, written by Tom Calderola ’65, Dave Miller ’66 and Phil Kelsey ’66. The show was performed at Marina Junior High School and proved so successful that the next year SI stagedOklahoma! at the Marines Memorial Theatre. SI was the last amateur group to play that theatre because ACT acquired it the following year and unionized. “When we went to put our sets and lights in for Oklahoma! in 1966, the union tried to stop us. Fr. Carlin then placed one phone call and took care of it. The union never bothered us after that.”

The theatre department produced a number of wonderful shows during the 1960s including the student-authored Margo and Me and Arsenic and Old Lace. The 1966 production of Oklahoma! Directed by Nicholas Weber, SJ, was one of the best shows produced by SI. According to the 1966 Ignatian, Oklahoma! featuredstudents Norice Moore, Peggy Walsh, Willie Morrissey, Glen Howell, Mike Yalon and Dave Miller, who “exhibited the talent that has been waiting to be expressed at SI musically and dramatically.” The show also featured Peter Devine and Katie Wolf, who would both continue their careers at SI.