Student overcomes disability to become debate champ

Frances Janelle Torres went from being a shy, insecure Ball High School freshman with a challenging physical disability to a confident, multiple award-winning debate champion.

COURTESY PHOTO/Galveston ISD

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of columns highlighting Ball High School students who showcased Tor spirit at its finest, whether through academics, athletics or overcoming adversity to be successful 2014 graduate.

In a matter of four years, Frances Janelle Torres went from being a shy, insecure freshman with a challenging physical disability to a confident, multiple award-winning debate champion as a senior.

Torres, a graduate of the Class of 2014, is afflicted with cerebral palsy, a condition that can affect movement, learning, hearing, seeing and thinking. That didn’t stop her from becoming one of the most decorated debate performers from a storied Ball High School speech and debate program. It’s her experience, under the tutorship of Texas Forensic League Hall of Fame coach Michael Merritte that changed her outlook on life.

Her high school career didn’t start out that way. She experienced bullying at a younger age because of a stuttering problem caused by her disability. She vowed to blend into the crowd entering her first year of Ball High.

“I was very insecure about myself, so I wanted to be as invisible as possible,” Torres said.

It was the encouragement of the school’s debate coach that drew her out of her shell. As a sophomore, she began to compete in several different categories at tournaments, including poetry, short story, children’s storytelling, dramatic and humorous acting, and group improvisation. She also met with the school’s speech therapist to work on her articulation and enunciation.

“I thought, ‘why not?’” she said. “My dad used to be a lawyer, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. My dad is my role model, he’s a good speaker, and I wanted to be like him one day.”

Much to her surprise, she started winning awards. She cites poetry, prose and dramatic acting as some of her strong categories. She won second place for prose at the Clear Brook Texas Forensics Association tournament, was a sixth-place finalist in the UIL District 24-4A Speech and Debate Tournament in poetry, and a sixth-place winner at the Clear Springs High School Texas Forensic Association meet for dramatic interpretation.

“I was surprised and shocked,” Torres said about the first time she won. “Like, ‘is this really mine?’”

Her amazing, uncanny ability to tap into the core emotions of her performances made her stand out from the competition.

“Coaches came to me and said their students would talk about this girl from Galveston Ball, Frances Torres,” said her coach, Michael Merritte. “A couple of coaches, unbeknown to me, went to observe Frances, and they came back in tears.”

In her inspiring three years as a debate team member, Torres has won 15 trophies, making the finals 18 times, and has competed at the state level. She was so dedicated to the speech and debate team, she moved in with her grandmother for her senior year after her family moved to Colorado. She will rejoin them there as a student at Colorado State University in the fall, where she hopes to continue competing in speech and debate.

“She perseveres and she’s fearless,” Merritte said. “I’ll say this: Awards go on the wall and trophies tarnish. Winners go on forever.”

Johnston Farrow is the communications specialist for Galveston ISD.

(1) comment

Walter Manuel

Congratulations Frances for seeing beyond your own disability to give hope to others who face what you have in the first years of your life.

Kudo's goes out to your coach and others as well who supported you through challenges that only you knew about yourself.

Your a true inspiration to others and may you keep reaching for the stars as the endless sky is yours for the taking! [thumbup]

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