Blaine team competes in state debate tournament

Six members of Blaine High School’s debate team made it to the state tournament last month – more than ever before.

Six Blaine High School debate team members competed in the Jan. 18-19 state tournament. Pictured here are (left to right) Lauren Hince, Shilvi Joshi, Christian Vasquez, Hayley Pierce-Ramsdell, Rachel Rystedt and Kayleen Berg. Rystedt and Berg finished highest of the Blaine team members, making it to the semi-final round in the public forum category of state competition. Photo courtesy of Ross Eichele

Six Blaine High School debate team members competed in the Jan. 18-19 state tournament. Pictured here are (left to right) Lauren Hince, Shilvi Joshi, Christian Vasquez, Hayley Pierce-Ramsdell, Rachel Rystedt and Kayleen Berg. Rystedt and Berg finished highest of the Blaine team members, making it to the semi-final round in the public forum category of state competition. Photo courtesy of Ross Eichele

Section tournament placement earned the six a spot in the state tournament. That preliminary round had Shilvi Joshi placing third and Hayley Pierce-Ramsdell placing fourth in the Lincoln-Douglas debate category, while Rachel Rystedt and Kayleen Berg placed fifth and Christian Vasquez and Lauren Hince brought home the section championship in public forum debate.

“Everyone we sent to sections advanced to state. We’re real happy with that,” said Ross Eichele, who coaches the 60- to 70-member Blaine debate team.

And at the Jan. 18-19 state tournament, Berg and Rystedt finished highest of Blaine’s debaters, making it to the semi-final round in the public forum category – the highest finish ever for Blaine, Eichele said.

With just two more qualifying rounds left in the 2012-13 debate season, Eichele hopes to send a few of his debaters to nationals.

That tournament takes place in Alabama during June. Last year, Blaine sent six to nationals.

“I hope to send four or five in the Congressional, maybe two to four in speech,” Eichele said.

Those qualifying rounds take place in mid-March, he said.

Still, he’s pleased with his debaters’ season thus far. And no matter whether any Blaine debater makes it to nationals, Eichele knows his debaters have gained skills that will serve them for life.

“It’s amazing to think of what they can do in life because of debate,” Eichele said.

According to Eichele, there are several characteristics that make a good debater.

“They’ve got to be eager to learn. They’ve got to be able to see the world in more than one way. They’ve got to work hard, and they’ve got to have fun,” Eichele said.

His team members recognize the perks of participating on the debate team, too.

“It really helps you in class, teaches you how to research, improves your writing skills,” said Hince.

Vasquez, Hince’s public forum debate teammate agreed. “Debate has given me more than anything else in my high school years,” he said.

Joshi, a shy girl, never brave enough to speak up in class before joining the debate team, says that debate has helped her tremendously.

“It’s really prepared me for job interviews, given me the confidence to speak freely in front of people, helped me with college interviews, writing essays… Debate has really done a lot for me,” she said.

Add to that, testimonies from Eichele’s fellow teachers and there’s no doubt debate is a valuable extra-curricular activity.

“I hear from teachers all the time telling me that debaters are the best students,” Eichele said.

“You’ve got to work pretty hard just to be average in debate. You’ve really got to know your stuff, and these kids really work hard.”

Debate is more than “just people yelling at each other,” as Hince said people mistakenly believe.

“There is so much strategizing that goes into it, not to mention the hours of research and preparation before the debate,” Hince said.

State tournament debate topics

For the state debate tournament, the Minnesota State High School League’s longest-running event, competitors in the policy debate category dealt with the issue “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its infrastructure investment in the United States.”

Twenty teams of two students each from 13 schools competed in that category. Kentucky Morrow and Hirsch Shekhar of The Blake School of Minneapolis took home top honors in that category.

This year’s Lincoln-Douglas debate – a one-on-one competition – dealt with this topic: “Resolved: Rehabilitation ought to be valued above retribution in the United States criminal justice system.”

Twenty-four students from 16 schools competed in that category. Andrew Urevig of Robbinsdale Armstrong defeated Richard Shmikler of St. Louis Park to win that competition.

Finally, in the public forum debate – new this year to the state tournament – the topic was: “Resolved: On balance, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission harms the election process.”

Twenty-four teams of two from 17 schools competed in public forum debate.

Hagop Togharanadjan and Sam Wood of St. Paul Academy and Summit School took home the inaugural title in public forum.

Prepping for competition

Preparation for competition is time-consuming and thorough, as Joshi explained.

“Debaters have to research both sides of the issue, because you don’t know until five minutes before the competition which side you’ll be arguing,” Joshi said.

And you don’t know your opponent or your judge until the last minute either, she said.

“You’ve got to be ready for anything and that takes a lot of work,” said Rystedt. “We’re here practicing before school starts. We’re here after school. We’re reading and working and researching even on days there is no school. There’s a lot that goes into debate.”

And a lot that comes out of it, said Joshi.

“There’s so much we can do in life because of debate. And there’s also the bonds that are created,” she said. “There’s a close connection that’s created with teammates and with opponents, too. Debate really gives you a lot.”

For more on the state debate tournament, visit www.mshsl.org/mshsl/index.asp.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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