High School

Bob Odenkirk once judged a Utah high school debate tournament

My family thought this might have been a fever dream.

What happened: It was 2016. My little brother Grant had traveled from South Dakota with his high school debate team for the national tournament. It was hosted at Brighton High School.

The question came at dinner: “Do you know who Bob Odenkirk is?” Grant asked. “He judged one of my debate rounds today. We lost.”

  • Grant showed us a photo of his debate partner, Evan, with Bob Odenkirk.

Context: By June 2016, Odenkirk had two seasons and an Emmy nomination into his hit AMC legal drama “Better Call Saul,” a spinoff from his role as lawyer/conman Saul Goodman in the acclaimed series “Breaking Bad.”

  • And yet there he was, wearing a baseball cap and backed by the grim late-’60s brick interior of a high school hallway, after judging my little brother’s debate in the Salt Lake City suburbs.

But why? The question haunted me. The next day I searched every corridor of Brighton High in hopes of finding him.

  • But he had vanished like an Ed Galbraith client.

The latest: My yearning for an explanation grew in recent weeks with “Better Call Saul’s” ramp-up to tonight’s series finale. So I finally asked him.

It turns out he became a Debate Dad when his son, Nathan, joined his high school team in California.

What they’re saying: “I followed him and the team to as many matches as I could and participated as a judge to assist,” Odenkirk wrote.

  • Asked how judging debates in Utah fit into his schedule, he replied: “Actors have a lot of DOWNTIME!! It’s actually a challenge for many of them. They take up golf or drinking. I used my down time to be a part of the Oakwood High School’s debate trips!”

What’s next: Six years after losing their debate round, Grant and Evan are both about to start a new school year as teachers — Evan at a Chicago middle school and Grant at a high school in Arlee, Montana.

  • Nathan Odenkirk is writing a podcast with his father after coaching debate for a few years.
  • Bob is no longer judging high school debates, though he said, “Maybe someday again.”

Yes, but: You can see him acting on television Monday at 7pm MT on AMC in the “Better Call Saul” finale.


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