Palo Alto High School junior Avi Arfin Sunday earned the title of State Champion in the California High School Speech Association Lincoln-Douglas Debates.
Arfin emerged the winner after a three-day competition in Los Angeles among California's 64 top high school debaters. Those students had been selected from thousands of high school debaters vying to compete in the state tournament.
Debaters must be able to argue both sides of a topic assigned nationally to all high school debaters by the National Forensic League in Ripon, Wisc. The weekend's topic was: "Resolved: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law."
Also competing at the state level was Paly junior Jujhaar Singh and Gunn High School students Justin Kahn, Jim Li, Pamudh Kariyawasam and Bryan Chu.
Judges require debaters to adapt their arguments to a wide audience, said Paly debate coach Jennie Savage, a former Capitol Hill legislative director and high school debater in Alabama who took over the 35-member Paly team three years ago.
"You could be speaking to anyone -- from the clerk at the grocery store to a federal district court judge," Savage said.
The exercise forces students to argue "passionately, emotionally, intellectually and persuasively both sides of an issue, depending on which round you're in," Savage said.
Debate teaches high-level critical thinking, she said.
"I really think debating is essential if our country is to try to include a global perspective and also be able to sit down at the table and get along with each other."