Interested in our roots? Read on for information about our evolution from BFL to BEST and to see our growth over the last four years.
BFL is Born
Before we were BEST, we were the Bulgarian Forensics League, or BFL. BFL was started by six Fulbright English Teaching Assistants in the winter of 2012. The idea was simple: give Bulgarian high school students a platform for intelligent debate and creative expression, in English. Help students develop their speech and debate skills, we thought, and they will develop much more: critical thinking skills, creativity, confidence, and leadership. BFL’s first tournament in April 2013 at the American University of Blagoevgrad featured six schools and approximately 100 participants.
In the summer of 2013, BFL was awarded a U.S. State Department grant from the Alumni Innovation Engagement Fund in order to expand and continue the project. In the 2013-2014 academic year, BFL hosted three additional national tournaments, held coach and judge training sessions throughout the year, reached over 20 schools and over 300 students, and qualified and funded three Bulgarian high school students to compete in the 2014 NSDA National Finals in Kansas.
Representing Bulgaria at the 2014 NSDA National Finals in Kansas,
from left to right: Nia Docheva (Oratory), Claire Sagstuen (Chaperone),
Georgi Dumanov and Katherine Krem (Duo Interpretation)
BFL Becomes BEST
In 2014, we became a registered non-profit and changed our name to the BEST (Bulgarian English Speech and Debate Tournaments) Foundation. In Bulgarian, it is “Фондация БЕСТ – български турнири по английска реч и дебати.” We believe that this new name makes our mission clear to both Bulgarian and English speakers who are new to our community.
BFL is reborn as BEST
Since then, BEST has grown tremendously. We hosted 4 tournaments in the 2014-2015 academic year, with an average of 25 schools, over 300 student competitors, and nearly 20 student volunteers per tournament; each tournament engaged nearly 100 adults as coaches, judges, or chaperones. We also qualified and funded seven students to compete in the 2015 NSDA National Finals in Dallas, Texas. In total, we reached over 500 participants from more than 30 schools. Our Student Ambassadors Program grew last year as well, with more than 30 high school students from all over Bulgaria receiving mentorship to lead their teams and the larger BEST community.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, BEST grew even bigger! In our third year of existence BEST hosted a total of eight tournaments: six regional tournaments, our annual U.S. Qualifier and our end-of-year National Tournament in Sofia. We also increased our community engagement with six regional coaches’ trainings for Fulbright ETAs and Bulgarian teachers alike. In addition, we developed our online coaching resources and provided more opportunities for our most qualified students to compete abroad. This year, we sent four students to the NSDA National Finals in Salt Lake City, Utah. Also, for the first time, our students represented Team Bulgaria at the Heart of Europe International Debate Tournament in Olomouc, Czech Republic. We continued to look for ways BEST can further develop our students’ English speech and debate skills, both domestically and internationally.
BEST Now: 2016-2017
With sixteen tournaments and three years under our belts, we’re currently working to make 2016-2017 our best year yet! In fact, we’re unrolling a “Bigger, Better, BEST!” by restructuring our regional tournament model to create larger competitions. This year, we will host a total of six tournaments: our annual U.S. Qualifier and National Tournaments, as well as four regional tournaments (two each in our East and West regions). Doing so will allow students to compete at the Novice and Varsity levels and will give students the chance to meet more of their peers from across the country. We are also expanding our resources for students by increasing our internship program from two to five, revamping our Student Ambassadors program, and creating an alumni network. We believe that, for us and for Bulgarian young people, the best is yet to come.
A moment of fun at the Team Bulgaria Debate Workshop at AUBG, Spring 2016
BEST would not exist without the generous support of the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission and the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, our two main sponsors.