Correction: This article incorrectly said the McIntosh High School team won the championship in the two-person policy forum debate at the Georgia Forensic Coaches Association state tournament in early March. Instead, the Starr’s Mill High School team of Tyler Holt and Madison Hynson (shown in the featured photo above) won the championship.
The McIntosh team was eliminated in the Round of 16 by a team from Carrollton High School.
A reverent Jewish boy and an observant Muslim girl in Fayette County teamed up to compete in the state debate championship tournament for McIntosh High School on March 2 and 3 at Lassiter High School in East Cobb.
Samuel Ellis is a senior at McIntosh High and has lived in Fayette County for 15 years. His father, Ralph, is a pilot at Delta Air Lines, and his mother, Angela is the temple administrator at Congregation B’nai Israel. His sister, Abigail, attends the University of Georgia.
Afra Abdul is a junior at McIntosh. She has lived in Peachtree City for five years and calls it a “wonderful place to grow up.”
Her parents, Ahmed and Thasneem, hail from India and arrived in the United States in the 1990s. Ahmed is an IT manager at Hyundai, and Thasneem is an auditor. She has a brother, Hassan, 11, a sixth-grader at Booth Middle School.
Both high school students are described by their inspirational debate coach and teacher, Abel Ward, as self-motivated and curious people “who truly embrace all sides of an issue, regardless of their personal beliefs.”
Afra has a passion for the medical field and joined the debate team as a freshman.
“It actually was an accident,” Afra said with a smile. “I walked into the wrong club and was too shy to leave.”
She was hooked after she attended the first debate match of the team, made up of approximately 30 high school students. She also enjoys reading and writing and is encouraged by her grandfather Muhammed Metha, who is a published poet in India.
Samuel, the first Jewish student to be elected student government president at McIntosh, has been debating the past four years and is enthralled with all things political and judicial. After school, he serves as an intern for state Judge Jason B. Thompson.
Samuel was featured in the AJT two years ago as a diligent Eagle Scout candidate who was designing and overseeing the construction of a beautiful mosaic at B’nai Israel in Fayetteville. He has completed the project and earned his status as an Eagle Scout.
The March debate tournament, in which the pair finished 4-2 in the preliminary rounds to qualify for the octofinals as the sixth seed, focused on the topic of whether the executive branch has too much power to authorize military force.
Depending on the flip of a coin, each student is required to argue for or against the thesis, then field questions from competitors.
Afra and Samuel work in sync. One opens while the other listens carefully to each line to defend the argument and rebut opponents. One summarizes, and the other tries to convince the judges why their team won the question. It may seem confusing to observe, but Afra and Samuel have debate down to a science.
To prepare, Afra tries to imagine what points her opponent will make or questions she and Samuel might confront. Samuel tries to think of cutting-edge and unusual facts that could bewilder their opponents.
Both Samuel and Afra are open and genuine about their background and religions.
Asked about how their different backgrounds affect their alliance, Afra laughed and said she tries to match her hijab with his bowtie.
Samuel said Afra is the best debate partner he has ever had. It is “never the person; it’s the personality,” he said. “Our goal is to be on the same page, and judges see how well we work together.”
Afra added, “Sam has my back, and I always have his.”