BHS debate, the Ann Cierley years 1960-1973

BHS debate, the Ann Cierley years 1960-1973Bruce Auld, a former Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent, is writing the history of Burroughs High School. The articles that are being published are excerpts form his upcoming book, exclusive to The News Review.


When Ann Cierley was 12 and attending junior high school in Bakersfield, Commander (later Rear Admiral) Jack Renard piloted a single engine Beechcraft cabin plane over the northern Mojave Desert in search of a vast US Navy rocket testing range. Aboard were Captain Sherman E. Burroughs and Dr. Charles Lauritsen of CalTech. Cdr. Renard was Ann Cierley’s uncle. Adm. Renard was proud of his role in creating the Naval Ordnance Test Station and that Ann would choose to teach at the high school named for his friend Sherman E. Burroughs.

In 1948 Ann was in her senior year at Bakersfield High School. She was editor of the school newspaper, Blue & White. One of her sports writers was Frank Gifford, legendary football player and sports broadcaster. Both would be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Frank in the National Football League and Ann in the National Forensics League (Debate).

In spring 1996, Ann Cierley wrote a very detailed account of her years coaching debate at Burroughs. Her source for the document was every clipping, score card and scrap of paper that she meticulously kept in her BHS file box, personally transferred to me, residing in my home office. The entirety of her account is included in the book. That which follows has excerpted from her writing.

From humble beginnings in 1960, when the team scored 208.1 points, the team would score 6913 points in 1973. Bill Farris, the longest serving member of the Sierra Sands governing board, was team co-captain in 1972. Debate would become the largest academic extracurricular activity in Burroughs High School history.

In October 1960, Ann was asked by Carolyn Croy, teacher of the Burroughs Junior Class Honors English class, to be a guest speaker relating her experience in Oxford style debating. Forty students came to hear her and that weekend traveled to Bakersfield High School to observe a debate tournament. Shortly thereafter (March 2, 1961), Burroughs was officially “chaptered” into the National Forensic League, Kern Region. The Burroughs team scored 208.1 points that year. The top individual point earners were Gordon Braham (182), Donna Huse (180), Gary Day (120), Cheryl Robinson (115), Gwen Shumway (108) and Brenda Harney (105). Note: Team points and individual points are calculated separately.

The results of the 1962 season would show great improvement. Burroughs scored 640.2 team points, with Donna Huse, then a senior scoring 426 points in just her second year of competition. Freshman Jim Heflin (194), would become the only Burroughs competitor to qualify for state level competition in all of his four high school years. Other highly competitive members were Gordon Braham (296), Jeff Besser (295), William Haseltine (215, author of My Lifelong Fight Against Disease) and Brenda Harney (201).

In 1963, Burroughs scored 1214.4 team points and Jim Heflin (321) again qualified for state level competition. Other top scorers were Jeriel Smith (442), Carvel Bass (324) Tom Clark (289), Tim Tiffany (252), Tom Clow (250, Tom would return to Burroughs to teach and coach debate), Robert Braitman (245) and Paul De Ham (207).

In 1964, Burroughs scored 1964.5 team points (not a typo). Top individual performers were Carvel Bass (497), Tim Tiffany (493), Jim Heflin (487, again qualifying for state level competition), Tom Clow (390) and Robert Braitman (358).

In 1965, Burroughs began to show its “powerhouse” pedigree, with 3028.7 team points. In his senior year Jim Heflin (631) qualified for state level competition and became the first Burroughs debater to compete in a national debate competition in “Impromptu Speaking” in Omaha, Nebraska, making it to the finals.

Senior debaters Jim Heflin, Carvel Bass and Tom Clow were celebrated as “Citizens of Tomorrow” by the Bakersfield Californian, in the June 2, 1965 edition (a total of ten Burroughs seniors were recognized in that article). Jim became a computer expert for the City of Los Angeles, creating the City’s 911 system.

Carvel was a professor of Biology in the California State University system. Tom returned to Burroughs briefly to teach and coach debate, yet spent most of his career as a prosecutor for Kern County in Bakersfield. He sadly passed this year due to Covid complications. Joining the high point club in 1965 were Shirley Wilson (567), Tom Clow (561), John Guth (523) and Roy Schults (487). Shirley Wilson, a remarkable speaker and a warm and generous person, was Burrough’s big winner at the national qualifying tournament, winning Girls’ Extemporary.

That summer, Shirley and Ms. Cierley attended the National Tournament at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Shirley also won the national speech contest sponsored by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Rebeckahs.

This speech competition was part of the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth at which Shirley had been chosen to represent Ridgecrest and Burroughs. She was awarded a full four-year scholarship to Brigham Young University.

In 1966, Roy Schults dominated with 604 individual points, as the team points increased to 3899.8. Also having a stellar year were John Guth (563), Michael Becker (524), Alfred Celestine (522), Sid Richison (521, who would also return to Burroughs to teach and coach debate), Gary Butler (502), Tanalee Jackson (500), and Steve Williams (499).

During the 1966-1967 school year, Ann Cierley took a sabbatical leave. Mr. Michael Christensen was her replacement. Not losing momentum, the team score was 4638.81. Alfred Celestine earned top individual point honors (667), closely followed by Michael Becker (636), James Viellenave (591), Hope Cherry (563), Robert Simpson (550) and David Bates (535).

In 1967-1968, with Ann returning to Burroughs and rebuilding the team, the point total was 4502. Top individual performers were Gary Peacock (532), Blaine Davies (528), Larry Creider (502) and Alan Goff (511).

In 1968-1969, the team point total was 4874. Top individual debaters were Gary Peacock (587), David Becker (579), Blaine Davies (564), William Neufeld (508), Rodney Schall (508) and John Pearson (502).

The 5000 team point ceiling was broken in 1969-1970, at 5469. Seventy-seven team members contributed to that achievement and without doubt Debate was one of the largest competitive organizations on campus. The marching band was equally successful that year. Reflecting this large number of competitors, individual point accumulations were not as high. William Schaniel was in the lead at 478, closely followed by Frank Grober at 466, then Phil Holbert (457) and Don Stanton (424).

Just missing the 6000 mark, the 1970-1971 team total came in at 5951. Don Stanton earned top individual honors with 538 points, followed closely by Sunny Wise with 531. Jolene Johnson earned 525 points illustrating the intense competition at the top.

In 1971-72, Ann Cierley’s team shattered the 6000 ceiling with 6814 team points, with three assistant coaches mentoring 124 competitors, 100 more than her first fledgling team a decade earlier. By far the largest competitive program on campus. Sunny Wise (597) and Max Grober(593), closely followed by Sandra Schwarzbach (553) were the top individual point earners.

In 1972-1973, one-hundred and fifty-five (155) competitors enrolled. In her final year at Burroughs, Ann Cierley’s team accumulated 6913 team points. Max Grober earned 623 individual points. With the creation of the Sierra Sands Unified School District approaching (Burroughs was part of the Kern High School District from 1945 to 1974), Kern Union High School District teachers at Burroughs could elect to stay with the new unified district or remain with the Kern High School District, yet having to relocate to Bakersfield. Ann decided to go home, later becoming the principal of West High School.

There are no photos of spectacular one-handed catches or buzzer beater lay-ups in debate. Thanks go to Ann’s sister, Shirley Moore, who attended a Burroughs debate reunion with Ann and created the caricatures in this article.

Although never a golfer, while living in Bakersfield Ann’s three homes in Bakersfield were located on golf courses. One beautiful spring morning she was enjoying coffee on her deck and watching a golfer playing solo. He hit a hole-in-one. Thinking no one could verify his shot, he was relieved to hear Ann call him over and sign his score card. Ann passed in 2019, just two days short of her 87th birthday.

Next weeks article will be, Burroughs and UCLA golfer, Devin Bling.

Courtesy photo: The late Ann Cierley in recent years

Story First Published: 2021-06-25