As the world of virtual debate has expanded this fall following a late-spring start, national tournaments have grown even more competitive than in pre-pandemic years; students far and wide can simply log on instead of hop a bus or plane to participate. And still, Rowland Hall students have thrived in these new conditions, with twice as many opportunities to compete, hone their skills, and accrue top accolades.
“Debate is as competitive as ever,” coach Mike Shackelford said. “Rowland Hall competed at 17 tournaments this fall, from New York to Los Angeles, local and national, occasionally at the same time.” Normally, that number is about half as high. On the weekend of November 6, for instance, Winged Lions competed in three different tournaments. One was the Utah Debate Coaches Association (UDCA) tournament—the most prestigious local regular-season tournament—where the team had its best showing of the fall. Rowland Hall won the sweepstakes award for the top school thanks to students’ impressive results:
- Senior Calvin Barbanell won the varsity big questions championship.
- Seniors Sophie Dau and Maddy Frech won the varsity policy championship.
- Seniors Augie Bown and Ty Lunde placed second in varsity policy.
- Juniors Lizzie Carlin and Casey Maloy placed second in varsity public forum.
- Sophomores Layla Hijjawi and Aileen Robles placed first in JV policy.
- Sophomore Iman Ellahie and freshman Regan Hodson placed first in novice public forum.
- Casey, Iman, Layla, and Ty earned top speaker recognition for their events.
Calvin is a brilliant mathematician, he loves philosophy, and is a senior on the debate team. Everything lined up for his first career championship.—Debate Coach Mike Shackelford
UDCA marked Sophie and Maddy's second-straight tournament championship, following their October win at the Rowland Hall-hosted Young Lawyers tournament. It also marked Rowland Hall’s first foray into the newer big questions event, which started in 2016 and entails debating resolutions at the intersection of science and philosophy. This year’s topic: "Resolved: Mathematics was discovered, not invented.” It’s a fortuitous premise for senior Calvin—an accelerated math student who, for instance, took AP Calculus BC as a freshman.
“Calvin is a brilliant mathematician, he loves philosophy, and is a senior on the debate team,” Mike said. “Everything lined up for his first career championship.”
In addition to JV and varsity successes, Mike said our sharp underclassmen bode well for future years. “The program has possibly the most impressive freshman class I've ever coached,” Mike said. “Strong in all events, dominant locally, recognized nationally, and so resilient.” One of those speakers is freshman Logan Fang, who on November 7 earned an iPad for being the top speaker in novice policy at the Damus Hollywood Invitational. Logan said he was dumbfounded but pleased with his win: “I strive to make every round better than the last so it's exciting to see progress towards becoming a polished speaker.” And it’s probably due to close bonds, he explained, that freshmen are excelling. “We're all friends outside of debate so we're able to give each other advice on a more personal level,” Logan said. “We all push each other to be better.”
Juniors Samantha Lehman, George Drakos, and Emery Bahna have also earned national recognition lately. Emery, for one, said one of her biggest accomplishments this fall was being named third-best speaker out of 300 competitors in varsity public forum at Grapevine Classic, a national tournament.
I’m unbelievably proud of the Rowland Hall debate team for adapting to these unforeseen circumstances, and I can’t wait to continue a successful season!—Junior Emery Bahna
Naturally, debaters like Emery and sophomore Aileen Robles miss in-person events and the related social perks such as team dinners, hotel overnights, and mingling with students from other schools. But in all likelihood, students who are able to take advantage of this virtual forum will have an edge when in-person events return: “We gain all kinds of experience,” Aileen said, as the sheer number of events that she and her classmates can attend is much higher this year.
Both Aileen and Emery expressed gratitude for people like their coach who have been working diligently to launch virtual editions of beloved competitions. “Being able to continue interacting with members of the debate community has been extremely important this year, especially given the crazy state of the world,” Emery said. “I’m unbelievably proud of the Rowland Hall debate team for adapting to these unforeseen circumstances, and I can’t wait to continue a successful season!”
Top: Seniors Sophie Dau and Maddy Frech celebrate victory at arm's length, showcasing their Young Lawyers varsity policy trophy while following Rowland Hall's physical-distancing rules.