Eight Blaine High School students competed in the Minnesota State Debate Tournament at the University of Minnesota Jan. 17 and 18.
It was the first state appearance for Sam Bullard, Matthew Dereck, Griffin Gartner, Devon Pendergast and Bailey Rung.
Kayleen Berg, Lauren Hince and Hayley Pierce-Ramsdell returned to vie for the championship in their respective debate forms.
To earn a trip to state, debaters must place in the top five or six at the section tournament, which was held at Blaine High School this year.
Dereck and Rung teamed up not too long before sections when Dereck’s former partner quit the team to devote more time to theater.
The two competed in public forum, diving into this year’s resolution: “Development assistance should be prioritized over military aid in the Sahel region of Africa.”
Though Dereck and Rung fell in preliminary competition at state, teammates Berg and Pendergast went 4-1, advancing to quarterfinals, then semifinals, where they lost to a duo from Eastview High School in Apple Valley.
Berg had dreams of a championship quashed in the semifinal round last year, too.
“Hopefully next year, I make that final round,” said Berg, a junior.
Debaters argue solo in the Lincoln-Douglas debate competition.
This year, students had to argue that developing countries should primarily concern themselves with either the preservation of their environment or the extraction of their resources.
“It’s more philosophical in nature” than other debate forms, according to Coach Ross Eichele, an English teacher at Blaine High School.
Both Hince and Pierce-Ramsdell were back at state, but it was Hince’s first time in Lincoln-Douglas.
Last year, she participated in public forum.
“Props to her for being able to switch,” Rung said.
It is fairly uncommon for students to advance to state in multiple debate forms during their high school career, according to Eichele.
Hince lost in preliminaries, but Pierce-Ramsdell made it to the quarterfinals.
“My only goal was to do better than last year,” Pierce-Ramsdell said.
Last year she ended her state experience 1-5 in preliminary competition. She flew past that record this year, finishing 3-2 in preliminary competition and earning a bid to the quarterfinals, where she lost to a student from Edina.
This is the first year Blaine students have competed in policy debate.
Sophomores Bullard and Gartner made it to state “by a hair,” Gartner said. They did not advance past preliminaries with a 1-4 record, but Gartner’s confident the two will improve next year.
Arguing around the United States’ trade agreements with Latin American countries, the debate can get very hypothetical.
“We talk about extinction every other round,” Gartner said.
They do so at rapid speeds: 350 words per minute.
“Your brain adjusts to it,” Gartner said.
Policy debate may involve the deepest research, according to Eichele, who has coached the Blaine team for eight years, but all debaters spend a significant amount of time preparing for competition.
Eichele often receives emails from students well after midnight. He estimates they put in about 20 hours each week, studying their respective issues and current events.
It might be more for Berg, who said she spends “every hour – just every waking hour” researching.
It’s thorough research that makes the Blaine debate program so successful, she said. Many coaches do the work for their students, according to Berg, but Eichele is “hands off,” so students develop a deep understanding of their own arguments.
Fifty-three Blaine students were active in debate this season, Eichele said, more than triple most Minnesota high schools’ participants.
Although the team is large, it’s close.
Pierce-Ramsdell continually refers to her teammates as “family” and although she sees debaters sharing a similar passion, drive and competitive spirit, students on the team are very different.
For Rung, the “biggest misconception” about debate is that only a certain type of student joins the team. He points to his teammates calling out their differences. Pierce-Ramsdell plays on the soccer team. Dereck got a 36 on the ACT. Rung himself has enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Unlike most arguments, debate, it seems, brings everyone together.
Olivia Koester is at firstname.lastname@example.org