Falmouth High School debaters find success with growing program

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FALMOUTH — Michelle Lafond has grown used to hearing teenagers debate everything from where to buy dinner to moral issues surrounding domestic violence.

“The kids can and will debate everything and may not even realize it,” she said.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

For the past four years, Lafond has taken a front row seat as the Falmouth Debate Team has swelled its ranks to 30 and found success in Maine and beyond. Lafond, who coaches the team with Karen Wolf, said the team has gained momentum in its quest to establish a debate program that rivals long-established teams at schools across the country.

The debate team placed first for the second consecutive year at the Maine State Debate and Speech Championship held Jan. 28 in Brunswick. It also received the Debate Sportsmanship Award and the fourth-place Congressional Debate Sweepstakes Award for its new Congressional debate team.

The team won a Debate Sweepstakes Award at the Feb. 4 National Forensic League district tournament at Edward Little High School in Auburn. Public Forum debaters Michael Norton, Kyle Grigel, Lee Larson and Ryan Tartre will represent Maine at the National Forensic League tournament June 10 in Indianapolis. Emma Sapat is one of two Maine representatives in the Lincoln Douglas category, while Abbie Pratico and Nate Wolf are alternates for Public Forum.

Falmouth debaters participate in the Public Forum category that features two-on-two debates about current events such as birthright citizenship, as well as the Lincoln Douglas category, featuring value-based debates.

More recently, the team began competing in the Congressional category, where participants write, propose, debate and pass bills.

Wolf, who like Lafond is a lawyer, said debaters dedicate countless hours to research, preparation and all-day Saturday tournaments.

“We have lots of serious debaters,” she said.

“And they’re smart, I tell you,” Lafond added. “The kids keep us on our toes. It’s impressive. They do a ton of research.”

For Pratico, a 17-year-old senior, the work is both challenging and fun. She joined the team as a sophomore and quickly found herself fully immersed in the world of debate.

“It’s really empowering to stand up and say you know all this information on one subject,” she said.

Pratico said the team includes a tight-knit group of friends who joined at the same time.

“The call us the cult in school because if you get stuck in the middle of a debate team conversation you’re not going to understand what’s going on,” she said.

Sapat, a 16-year-old junior, said she joined the team as a freshman after hearing a presentation by Lafond at the middle school. The idea of talking about “interesting and relevant” topics appealed to her.

“For me, the best part is being involved in a community of intellectuals,” she said.

Molloy, a 14-year-old home-schooled student, joined the team at the beginning of the school year.

“I wanted to figure out a way to win an argument with my dad,” he said.

While he may not win every argument against his dad just yet, Molloy said he clearly sees the benefits of being involved with the debate team.

“I’ve definitely seen more of an ability to see the contradictions in something somebody might say,” he said.

Lafond said students will reap the benefits of their debate team work no matter what profession they pursue. The students develop the ability to research topics, speak publicly and think quickly.

Lafond said she expects the team to continue to grow and would like to see the community become more involved with the team. The team hosted a tournament in 2011 that drew 170 debaters from across the state and likely will host another next fall.

“We really want to see Falmouth have a debate program that endures and that lots of kids are drawn to,” Wolf said.

Practico said she’ll miss the debate team when she graduates, but hopes the team continues to find success – and its own trophy case for the burgeoning collection of debate trophies.

“We’ve definitely raised the bar,” Pratico said.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext.125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

Sidebar Elements

Falmouth Debate Team members, from left, Emma Sapat, Ben Dobbins, Abbie Pratico, Ryan Tartre, Lee Larson, Nate Wolf, Kyle Grigel, Michael Norton, Tyler Torrey and Desmond Molloy last weekend participated in a tournament where some team members qualified for a National Forensic League tournament that begins June 10 in Indianapolis.

Individual honors

The Falmouth Debate Team competed against 22 other schools at the Jan. 28 Maine State Debate and Speech Championship in Brunswick. The following students earned individual awards:

• Novice Lincoln Douglas: Tessa Hollbrook, first place; Sam Larson, third place.

• Junior varsity Lincoln Douglas: Josh McGovern, first place.

• Varsity Lincoln Douglas: Emma Sapat, fourth place; Ben Dobbins, fifth place.

• Novice Public Forum: Serene Singh and Tristan Tucker, fourth place.

• Varsity Public Forum: Molly Paris and Toby Aicher, second place; Sean Connolly and Ryan Tartre, third place; Abbie Pratico and Nate Wolf, fourth place.

• Senate: Desmond Molloy, second place.