UAIS debaters earn second consecutive state title

By: Brad D. Bates | C&G Newspapers | Published February 6, 2013

 The UAIS debate team, from left, Danny Haidar, Sarah Braqi, Feeha Hassan, Katy Surhigh, Alec Franks, Omar Affify, Jazmine Coles and Alyssa Sanderson, earned honors at the state championships Jan. 12 in Albion.

The UAIS debate team, from left, Danny Haidar, Sarah Braqi, Feeha Hassan, Katy Surhigh, Alec Franks, Omar Affify, Jazmine Coles and Alyssa Sanderson, earned honors at the state championships Jan. 12 in Albion.

Photo provided

STERLING HEIGHTS — Utica Academy for International Studies juniors Alec Franks and Danny Haidar admit to being “outspoken” and “too wordy” growing up, but as of Jan. 12, can they really be faulted for those traits?

The loquacious pair used their gifts of gab, which they admit have been slightly refined, to bring home first- and second-place finishes at the Michigan Interscholastic Forensics Association’s state championships in Albion.

“I personally was rather outspoken from a young age, and I’ve debated informally from a young age,” said Franks, who took first place debating the merits of a bill to reform filibuster arguments in government.

“But absolutely, debate has been a factor to develop my language skills far beyond anything I ever hoped.”

“I came in with an inclination toward language, and part of my problem was being too wordy, taking it too far,” said Haidar, who finished runner-up behind Franks. “Debate has taught me how to do it best. Not only using the biggest words, but the most effective words.”

Franks, of Shelby Township, and Haidar followed in the footsteps of Josh Barthel, who was a 2012 debate state champion for UAIS. Coach Chris Kulhman said that the success of the UAIS program is a testament to the kind of student that enters the program.

“My approach is vey open-door,” Kulhman said. “I try to encourage anyone that wants to come out to learn to be a better speaker and learn to have confidence in themselves, and learn to be more analytical.”

Along with Franks and Haidar, of Sterling Heights, several UAIS students took home other honors at the state championships, with junior Katy Surhigh placing eighth at the varsity level.

At the novice level, Omar Affify took third place, Alyssa Sanderson took seventh place and Jasmine Coles took eighth place. Sara Braqi joined them as a finalist.

The team from UAIS competes in legislative debate, which has them write and argue bills in a congressional format.

“Being involved in legislative debate extends beyond the debate,” Kulhman said. “It extends to class presentations, and a lot of times, it’s less about debating and more about the skills they acquire.”

Franks and Haidar said they use critical thinking, writing and verbalized problem solving nearly every day.

“(Debate is) the most effective crash course in every other aspect of my academic career, and (it happens) very quickly, and with great, noticeable results,” Franks said.

Franks said he would like to use his skills professionally someday, perhaps as a lawyer, and Haidar said he would prefer to enter politics.

But both said they would like to ultimately use their gifts to make the world a better place.

“I don’t know if I think there’s a lot of interest. … There’s dissatisfaction, and that is what drives us,” Franks said of why debaters are drawn to law and politics. “No one is interested in something because they’re happy with the way things are going.”

“It’s realizing we’re upset with something and understanding the reason in its entirety, so we can know what we don’t like and then address it to fix what we don’t like,” Haidar said.

While both hope to one day change the world, they said that all of their hopes and dreams started at home with parents that encouraged and challenged them.

“He’d ask me ‘Why?’” Haidar said of honing his debate skills at an early age with his father. “Because of that, I’ve always needed to have evidence, because (a lack of evidence) would give him an option to prove me wrong, and I didn’t want that.

“At home, I had the Socratic environment,” Haidar added. “It was always questioning everything and understanding why.”

“My parents have been nothing but the greatest asset to me,” Franks said. “From an early age, they’ve never been anything but encouraging to me.

“They were the best, because they created an environment in which I could foster an innate ability to think analytically and assert my opinion.”