Lowell’s first all-female parliamentary debate team reaches the finals at state competitions

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For the first time, an all-female team from Lowell reached the finals at the Parliamentary Debate State Championships in Southern California.

Seniors Frances Sutton (left) and Emily Hall (right) won second place at the Parliamentary Debate State Championships in April. Photo by Ciara Kosai

The duo, seniors Emily Hall and Frances Sutton, won second place. They faced 48 of the highest-ranking teams in the state and won eight out of nine rounds of debates on subjects including corporate taxation and Brexit during the tournament April 28–30 at Arcadia High School.

Parliamentary form of debate is unique, as it centers around impromptu thinking. While at tournaments, competitors are not allowed internet access, so the duo drew on their naturally hard working and competitive natures to “kick our practicing up to high gear the week before by researching topics so that we would be more prepared,” Hall said. Together and with the help of fellow teammates, they studied and prepared briefs on topical subjects like foreign trade, civil liberties, and economic policy, for access during their 20 minute prep time at the tournament. During the debate, each side gives two seven-minute and one five-minute speeches, and competitors are not allowed to chose which side of an argument they debate.

During the debate, each side gives two seven-minute and one five-minute speeches, and competitors are not allowed to chose which side of an argument they debate.

In the final round the girls argued for the resolution, “Requiring incoming college freshmen to declare a major stunts their educational development.” The topic was less rooted in facts than what they were accustomed to, and they lost by a close split ballot.

One challenge they faced was working around the judges’ inherent political biases. As a result, affirming and negating resolutions on these controversial topics proved tricky, according to Hall.

Though they did not take home first place, the girls were pleased with their performance. They did not expect to make it to finals, Sutton said. “Our goal was to get as far as possible” she said.“We are happy with how we did, and glad that we’ve upheld Lowell’s success and reputation as a top-notch team.”

As far as being the first all-female finalists from Lowell, the girls say they are proud. Now more girls than boys from Lowell have reached finals at the state championships.

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Before finals, this past year Hall and Sutton participated in the Bay Area’s competitive Golden Gate Speech Association League. At “State Quals,” 54 teams attended and the pair finished in the top seven, qualifying them to move up to the state level, thus continuing Lowell’s decades long tradition of sending competitors to the tournament.

Now more girls than boys from Lowell have reached finals at the state championships.

Forensics coach and director Terry Abad accompanied the team to the tournament. According to Abad, parliamentary style debate was first offered at state championships in California in 2004, and this year, the tournament consisted of 164 schools from across the state with over 1,100 students competing in the various speech and debate events. Abad has been coaching Lowell’s team since the 2005 and sent Lowell’s first parliamentary to the competition in 2010. He eventually even hosted the event in 2012.

The state championships coincided with when Hall and Sutton had to make their final college decisions, creating time constraints for training. Nevertheless, they found time to hone their improvisation skills through many practice debates with teammates at Lowell.

In addition to the rigorous preparation, they attribute superstition as their key to success. Over the course of their season they developed various rituals such as knocking on wood and wearing an article of each other’s clothing. These superstitions apparently made the difference between winning and losing various matches, according to them.

Hall and Sutton did not begin debating as a team until this season. Due to her love of public speaking and goal of meeting new people, Sutton started with Lowell Forensics as a freshman and encouraged Hall to join her the following year. “[Sutton] was like, ‘You love talking so much, you better join,’ and basically forced me to,” Hall said. “It’s honestly the best thing ever.”

They debated separately sophomore and junior years. Hall won the state championship title last year with her partner, then-senior Thomas White. This year both their partners graduated, leading Hall and Sutton to pair up.

Initially, the girls had concerns regarding how their friendship would translate to working together as debaters. It is crucial for partners to critique each other’s speeches in order to improve. They were worried criticism might negatively affect their relationship.

Luckily, the opposite proved to be true, and their friendship gave them a head start with communication. “We never had any problems communicating, which is often tough for debate partners,” Sutton said. “Sometimes she’d be in the middle of a speech, and if I mouthed a word to her she could get it and make the argument I wanted her to.”

“We never had any problems communicating, which is often tough for debate partners,” Sutton said. “Sometimes she’d be in the middle of a speech, and if I mouthed a word to her she could get it and make the argument I wanted her to.”

This past year Hall and Sutton also served as vice president and president of the Lowell Forensics Board, respectively.

Abad credits the team’s success to their diligence as leaders.

Freshman JV parliamentary debater Sarah Berman said Hall and Sutton’s landmark all-female win makes her feel proud. “[I] think that if I try hard enough, I can someday go to the state championships as well,” Berman said.

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