National Championship in Debate
In 1986, SI’s Speech and Debate Program won the National Championship Sweepstakes Trophy from the National Forensic League in Tulsa, Oklahoma, recognizing SI as the top school in the country in legislative debate in a field of 1,500 competitors. The award paid tribute to a dozen years of excellence by past members of SI debate teams.
To win the award, SI sent debaters to 10 of the 13 national tournaments between 1974 and 1986 and eight Wildcats captured individual awards at those events, placing in the top 10 of the best debaters from the U.S. Those winners included Timothy Murphy (1974), Brian McCaffery (1975), Fred Schluep (1976), James Fazackerley (1977), Michael Schwartz (1977), Anthony Cistaro (1981), Michael Boro (1982), Clayton Chan (1983), Jonathan Nicolas (1984), James Farrell (1985 and 1986) and Jeffrey Bryan (1986).
In 1987, SI continued the winning tradition in speech and debate when high school students from 21 states met in Philadelphia to compete in the National Bicentennial Constitutional Student Congress to commemorate the original signing of the Constitution in 1787. California sent two representatives, both from SI — Janar Wasito ’87 and Robert Forni ’88. After two days of competitive speaking on 10 legislative topics, Wasito took second place honors and Forni earned third place.
The national trophy and other awards are on permanent display in the Speech and Debate display case at SI. They are a testament to the students who earned these honors and to David Mezzera ’64, who coached debate at SI between 1970 and 1986 and who retired in 2002.
David Mezzera ’64
David Mezzera is the author of Student Congress and Lincoln–Douglas Debate, published by the National Textbook Company. That book and Mezzera’s passion for student congress competition helped re-establish the credibility of that competitive speech event in California. Because of his many years helping students hone their public speaking and debate skills, the California High School Speech Association inducted Mezzera April 30, 2000, into its Coaches’ Hall of Fame.
Mezzera began his auspicious career by attending, as a sophomore, the state speech and debate finals, and he made repeat appearances there as a junior and senior while he was president of the SI Forum. In his senior year, he competed in a national invitational debate tournament in Washington, DC, taking 10th place.
While studying at USF, he helped SI speech coach Charles Henry ’38 (then Fr. Henry), and joined the SI faculty in 1970. In 1973, when Henry left SI, Mezzera inherited the program and helped students prepare for debates and congresses while also teaching public speaking and American government. He left those duties in 1986 when he became director of the Community Service Program.
During Mezzera’s 17-year tenure as speech coach, SI students qualified for the national debate tournament in 14 of those years, and these students enjoyed their greatest success in student congress — the category for which Mezzera wrote the rules.
California Hall of Fame President John Cardoza wrote the following to Mezzera: “Your concern for your students, the success they have realized because of your tutelage, the mentoring you have provided, the growth of quality speech education programs in your league and throughout the state — these are just a few of the reasons for the high esteem with which you are regarded by your friends and fellow teachers.”
Cardoza isn’t alone in his praise of Mezzera. Simon Chiu ’88, a former SI English teacher who coached speech and debate for seven years and who debated for Mezzera, also sang the virtues of his former mentor.
“Besides being my high school speech coach, Dave has quietly and unassumingly mentored me over many years,” said Chiu. “I know that he left coaching because he was tired of the weekly grind of going to tournaments and being away from his own family so often, but he has never lost his enthusiasm and passion for competitive public speaking. Dave never forgot why a coach does what he does — for the kids. He has never let the ethos of competition distract him from ministering to his students and teaching the skills they need to succeed not only in a contest but also in life. His success as a coach is commendable; his success as a teacher and educator is admirable.”
Mezzera sees the Hall of Fame honor as an affirmation of the importance not only of speech programs in high schools but also of public speaking classes. “When I see high school students (SI and others) struggling with having to speak in public, I’m reminded of the value of taking a public speaking class or participating in a debate program. When I encounter former students (which is rather frequently), most will provide me with anecdotes about how the ability to feel comfortable with speaking in public has helped them as a person and as a professional.”
Mezzera continues to stay active in the field, serving as clerk for the San Francisco Bay’s District Student Congress, teaching parliamentary procedure professionally and administering congressional workshop debates during June and July for the Junior Statesmen of America’s summer schools.
The school newspaper went through several incarnations in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1979, the 2001 changed its name to the OceanSIder and in 1982 back to Inside SI and appeared in both magazine and tabloid formats. SI also launched a video yearbook in 1989 called ’Cat’s Eye ’89, produced by the SI Video Yearbook Club and moderated by Br. Thomas Koller, SJ. The videotape sold for $34.95 and featured video clips of games, rallies, fine arts activities, graduation and other gatherings, all set to music. The Ignatian continued producing quality yearbooks throughout the 1980s, and a few attempts were made to establish a new literary magazine. When English teachers began publishing one in the 1990s, they called it The Quill after the literary magazine of the 1950s.
Much has already been written about the Drama Department at SI. For many students, however, the thrill of working in theatre did not lie in the glare of the spotlights, but behind them working on the lighting crew or hammering away as part of the stage crew. Kevin Quattrin ’78 made his theatrical debut as a page-turner for a pianist in his junior year. As a junior, he worked with Tony Remedios ’77 building roof sets for The King and I, the last musical SI would stage with Mercy.
He liked the backstage atmosphere “because these were down-to-earth guys who treated each other well. I was a newcomer, and they welcomed me right away.” Quattrin, who played football as a student (and who served as a football coach at SI from 1978–2004), likened the backstage crew to the offensive line. “We didn’t get any recognition and were perfectly happy that way.” He credits theatre veterans Bill Raffetto ’69, Mark Roos ’75 and Phil Bailey ’76 with helping to establish that esprit de corps and to train the next generation of technicians and carpenters. Colleges knew they could rely on SI for reliable people for their theatre programs, and many of these people ended up in the profession, such as Dan Michalske ’72, Ken Ryan ’78 and Brendan Quigley ’78.
“Peter Devine encouraged us to learn the traditions of the backstage,” added Quattrin. “You treat new people well, and you train them to take your place. He taught us that the theatre was there before us and that it would be there after we left. It was our job to leave it in better shape for the next crew. His philosophy fit right in to the Ignatian mission and vision. He encouraged us to give everything we had to something bigger than us. It’s not about glory or about needing people to tell you how important you are.”
The crew did enjoy playing pranks during the shows. During The King and I, actors portray a scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin where Eliza runs away from Simon Legree. “The music sounded just like the music from Jaws,” recalled Quattrin. “We built a shark fin and ran it across the stage just as Eliza runs across the ice. Only 10 of us knew of the prank, including the lighting people, who put a spotlight on the fin as it raced along the stage. The orchestra burst into laughter, and even Pete Devine loved it.”
Quattrin returned to SI’s back stage in 1981 as the technical director for Oliverand worked the following year on Bells Are Ringing. In 1983 he helped Bart Sher ’77 with Working and later, in 1984, he assisted with 110 in the Shade. He also worked as a lighting designer, set designer and sound designer over the years, and he teaches students how to hang and focus lights and how to build sets. “There have been so many kids who have moved me with how much they have grown,” he added. “Peter had a way of guiding kids to us who needed a place to belong.” Quattrin did his part, too, asking his football players to help with the spring musical to move sets. “They would discover how much fun it is and stay.”
Jean Wolf, mother of SI Grad Steve Wolf ’63 and Katie Wolf (SI faculty since 1978), headed the SI costume department for 19 years, starting in 1961 with High Button Shoes, directed by Fr. Fred Tollini, SJ ’52. She began designing for Fr. Richard McCurdy’s productions of HMS Pinafore, Journey’s End, and Little Mary Sunshine when SI boys still played the women’s roles. When SI received permission for girls to be in the productions, Jean continued designing the costumes, and her daughter, Katie, was in the first coed cast of Charley’s Aunt in the fall of 1964. Her final production was for the fall 1979 production of Death of a Salesman. Some of her most notable shows include Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma, Teahouse of the August Moon, Carnival, Hello, Dolly! The King and I, Rainmaker and Luther.
Nelia Schubert, the mother of Sergio Schubert ’81, began costume design with SI’s first production of My Fair Lady to celebrate the school’s 125th anniversary. She continued designing costumes from 1980 thru 1999. Nelia was born and raised in Italy, but moved to Brazil after WWII where she met and married her husband, a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia. She worked in semi-professional theatre costumes there for several years before she and her husband came to San Francisco where their son was born. When he became involved in theatre through the stage crew, she decided to assist Jean and then became the designer for the next 19 years. She especially enjoyed designing period costumes and designed and constructed more than 100 medieval costumes for SI’s production of Camelot — each designed and sewn by her hands alone. Among her most notable productions were Camelot, My Fair Lady, Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby, Cyrano de Bergerac, Cabaret, Man for All Seasons, Secret Garden, 1776, Mack and Mabel, Man of La Mancha and Evita.
California Scholarship Federation
In the 1980s CSF turned into one of the more dynamic organizations on the SI campus thanks, in large measure, to its adviser, Rod Arriaga, who took charge of the organization at the start of the decade. In 1980, a group of students approached Arriaga wanting to become more involved in the school. Arriaga and a delegation of students soon began attending meetings with other San Francisco CSF chapters, which led, in turn, to field trips, college visits and student exchanges.
At SI, the group kept active by tutoring students both at school and at the adjacent A.P. Giannini Middle School, and members raised funds through Candygrams, car washes and dances for scholarships given to graduating Life Members. CSF members also organized blanket and clothing drives for St. Anthony’s and started an end-of-the-year awards-night that featured a guest speaker to honor Life Members. By the end of the decade, between 40 and 50 percent of the student body qualified as members and more than 90 percent of those enrolled in the club.
“CSF’s motto is ‘Scholarship for Service,’” said Arriaga. “It’s a secular organization, but its aim is wonderfully consistent with what we do as Jesuit educators and with Ignatian philosophy. We take those who are academically distinguished, acknowledge accomplishments and encourage them to give back to their communities. Promoting all of this in a place such as SI was a natural.”
State CSF officials were so impressed by Arriaga’s achievements that, in 1985, they asked him to serve as a member (and later chairman) of the Seymour Memorial Awards Committee, and in 1989 he began a 6-year stint as CSF state president (two years as president elect, two years as president and two years as past president). From 1995 to 1997, he served as the group’s historian and archivist and then retired as CSF adviser at SI in 2001 and from teaching in 2005. Carol Quattrin now serves as moderator, carrying on the traditions established by her predecessor.
And All the Rest
Aside from all the activities already mentioned, students could join a host of other clubs. The roster from the 1980s included all the traditional ones previously mentioned as well as ethnic clubs (AAAS, ALAS, ASC & the Irish Club), Amnesty International, Art and Publicity, the Dance Committee, the CB Club, the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Club, Dungeons and Dragons, the Pro Life Club, Sailing, Bowling, the Surf Club, Musical Theatre Workshop, Cheerleaders, Pep Band, the Movie Club, the TV Club, the Computer Club, Peace and Social Justice, the Rally Committee, the Liturgy Group, the Military Service Club, the Pep Band, Big Brothers, Junior Statesmen of America, the Model UN, the Young Republicans, the Democratic Youth Rally, the Hockey Club, 8-Ball Society, Club Med, the Dart Club, the Chess Club, the Spirit Club, the Card Club, the Ski Club, the Young Entrepreneur Club, Wrestling, the Bike Team, the French Club, the Italian Club, the Wilderness Club, the Hiking Club, the Science Club and a few others of limited duration, such as the Film Makers’ Club, the Pun and Hibachi Club, the Backgammon Club, the Dred Society, the Python Club (made up of wrestling fans), the Elvis is King Club and the Deep Club whose origins and purpose are a mystery.
SI set aside one day each year from 1985 to 1987 and again in 1995 as an Awareness Day, with each event dedicated to one issue. They focused on, in order, the arms race, drug abuse, racism, and tolerance. The days proved popular with students who, aside from appreciating the break from classes, spent the day listening to speakers and talking about issues that went to the heart of their Jesuit education.