The Ferris High School debate team won a state championship last month in a school year when all debates took place virtually.
Two two-person teams competed in the area of policy debate, which is perhaps better known as cross examination debate, Ferris debate coach Dan Sjolund said.
“It’s the oldest and most traditional form of debate,” Sjolund said. “Policy debate on the East Side of the state was dying out. We’ve really broken the mold and focused on that.”
The team of Emma Millar and Zac Clough and the team of Emma Owen and Jordan Keller all won the championship.
“Our two top teams ended up being co-state champions,” Sjolund said. “Ferris closed out.”
The debate team took second place overall in the statewide sweepstakes, which is determined by the points accumulated since competition began in July.
The final debate tournament started on a Thursday and went through Saturday.
“I’m obviously at home, tracking this,” Sjolund said.
“I was on the edge of my seat. We were very familiar with the teams they were going up against.”
Sjolund admits he may have done a bit of screaming when he realized what his team had accomplished.
“The whole team has been working so hard this year and adapting,” he said.
“It’s rare, if ever, that a team has first and second in policy debate.”
There were downsides and benefits to a virtual schedule this year, according to debate team members. Owen said she appreciated not having to worry about travel costs to get to competitions. But she also missed the fun parts of a usual debate tournament, including visiting with other teams.
“It’s just more exhausting and emotionally draining,” she said of competing virtually. “It’s a lot of trade-offs.”
Millar said she liked being able to sit in her bedroom and talk to people.
“I was able to meet a lot more people this year,” she said.
Clough said he missed the social aspect of the usual tournaments. He said the ability to compete in more tournaments because they were virtual was both a blessing and a curse.
“You’re able to go to a lot more tournaments, but it’s exhausting doing a tournament every weekend,” he said.
It wasn’t just the tournaments that were online. So were practice sessions, which sometimes made it difficult for new members of the team, co-captain Tricia Reum said.
“Usually, we get to have a fall retreat where we teach them everything we know,” Reum said.
“We spent a lot of time coaching and teaching novices over Zoom this year.”
But the team was able to power through everything, she said.
“It really showed the resiliency of our team,” she said.
Owen said she was pleased all her hard work has paid off this year.
“It kind of feels like something I’ve been working toward a long time,” she said. “Debate is a lot of work.”
Sjolund said he saw team members support each other all through the competitions, which helped their success.
“I’m so proud of them,” he said.
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