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Who was John Bernabei?  John coached the North Hollywood Speech and Debate Team until his death on March 5, 2007.  John was not a faculty member; he initially got involved in league competitions as a volunteer judge through the Optimist Club, a community service organization.  John and his purple Optimist jacket became a familiar sight at tournaments.  He developed a passion for forensics, and he wanted to do more than judge.  John was also a professional actor, and he knew he could put his theatre skills to use in coaching a team.  John talked the North Hollywood HS administration into letting him start a team there, and once he started coaching, there was no turning back. 

We TCFL coaches loved it when John judged because his carefully penned ballots contained a wealth of advice kids could put into immediate practice. And he was great at recruiting quality judges.  When our league hosted States at CSUN in 2005, John recruited judges from both Screen Actors Guild and Alcoholics Anonymous for our IE qualifier.  You couldn’t really tell which was which (and there might have been some crossover), but they were all conscientious judges who wrote ballots worthy of awards themselves. 


John loved getting community organizations involved, and would drive great distances to make sales-pitches for forensics at countless Lions Club dinners and the like.  John’s devotion to forensics may well have compromised his health, but you could not keep him away.  He showed up to every tournament whether on his two feet or in a wheelchair, and his team members were fiercely devoted to him.  John loved to tell jokes, and he had a million stories stemming from his days as an actor hitting the boards in search of the role that would surely make him a star.  Just days before he passed away during open heart surgery, he called Jerome and Kathy and railed for the better part of an hour about his concerns that speed-debate was becoming the norm in Lincoln-Douglas. 


At his premature passing, John was in his coaching prime—he had many more champions to groom.  His death was a loss to our league and to our profession.  We all miss him, but his great friend, Valencia coach Joe Marcucilli probably misses him most of all. Joe was always an enthusiastic audience for John’s jokes; you’d hear his guffaws across the tab room and just know that John had sprung a new one on Joe.  To honor John’s memory, we award those league competitors who show unflagging spirit to the sport of forensics.  These students enter every league open tournament, win or lose, sharpening and expanding their skills, demonstrating that regardless of outcome, Speech and Debate is a valuable, life-changing experience.  This year’s winners are:



Arroyo Grande HS (1)

  • Lucas Havemose

Granada Hills Charter HS (1)

  • Sarah Shapiro

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