The Parker School debate team certainly has the gift of gab. Its members trumped the competition last week during the State Forensic Championship at Honolulu’s Kamehameha Schools’ Kapalama Campus and Punahou School, where they picked up a giant trophy and the title.
The Parker debaters earned 28 points, the most overall. That was one more point than Iolani School, which came in second, and 14 more points than third-place finisher Punahou School. This is the first time in the past 30 years that a neighbor island school has won the state championship, said Carl Sturges, Parker School headmaster and debate coach.
“Small schools can accomplish great things if they have students who support one another and believe that they are as good as anybody else,” he said. “This team definitely showed that they are not only talented, but have a great deal of heart. I enjoyed every minute of coaching them this year.”
Fourteen schools participated in the championship, several of which have more resources and a larger student body, which allows students to concentrate on one activity. Parker School has 250 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, of which, 100 are upperclassmen. Its debate team has grown from having eight students six years ago to 32 students today. Besides being on the debate team, those students also participate in sports or the arts and must strike a balance between these activities, Sturges said.
Twenty-three Parker School students qualified for and competed in the state competition. A dozen of them made it to the semifinals or finals — a major advantage, Sturges said. “This (championship) is the one thing that allows Parker School to compete with some of the best teams in the state and on equal footing,” he added.
To do well, the students had to do extensive research on an assigned topic, master the information, know how to set up an argument, as well as effectively present and defend it clearly. The total points for their team depended on their individual standings. Over the past six years, team members have earned individual honors at the state competition. But this is the first time the team has taken the overall title, Sturges said.
Paul Gregg, a 17-year-old senior, was the only team member to qualify for the national competition to be held in June in Montgomery, Ala. Gregg earned second place in championship Lincoln-Douglas debate, a one-person debate on whether the United States is justified in intervening in the internal political processes of other countries in an attempt to stop human rights abuses. Knowing this could be his last tournament, Gregg took a different strategy while competing. Instead of focusing on trying to win, he focused on speaking passionately and having a good time.
Gregg described the team’s experience at the state competition as “a warm surprise, which was satisfying and completely gratifying.”
Gregg first joined the debate team as a freshman, with Sturges’ encouragement. At the time, Gregg said he was reserved and shy. The team not only got Gregg more involved with the school, it also gave him valuable oration skills and more confidence that he believes translates beyond the classroom.
What Gregg enjoys most about debate is how it challenges him to think critically about all sides, succinctly argue opinions — even those that aren’t of his own beliefs — and gives him a wealth of perspective.
Nya Phillips, a 15-year-old sophomore, decided to join the debate team this year after seeing how much fun her friends had competing last year. Phillips said she just thought it would be a great experience and never considered that she would also be good at it.
How good? The newbie and her partner, Kyley Nishimura, got second place in beginning public forum debate while discussing whether continuing current U.S. anti-drug policies in Latin America would do more harm than good.
Phillips considers debate to be sort of an ultimate intellectual battle for academics, where the intensity and excitement naturally flow from the ideas offered by one’s partner and opponents. She said there are heated moments, and arguments can get aggressive, but it’s always fun.
Phillips relishes moments when she feels like she’s excelling at her analysis, delivery and decorum, as well as when she knows how to eloquently deal with a repeat opponent or speak in a way that the judges favor. She especially enjoys cross-examining her opponents.
Her participation has led Phillips, who has always been interested in politics, to consider studying law in college.