A pair of Bengals compete in state debate tournament

by Sue Austreng
Staff Writer

Outfitted in conservative black suits and armed with heaps of photocopied documents, dozens of scholarly articles and reams of printed research, Blaine High School students Courtney Bye and Shilvi Joshi arrived for the 2012 Minnesota State Debate Tournament.

Courtney Bye and Shilvi Joshi, both students at Blaine High School, recently competed in the 2012 Minnesota State Debate Tournament, staged at the University of Minnesota Jan. 13 and 14. Photo courtesy of Ross Eichele

The tournament, staged at the University of Minnesota west bank Jan. 13 and 14, had 64 students from 28 schools competing for championship status.

After eight rounds of debate, Bye finished among the top eight in the state. Joshi won just one round of the six in which she competed, but that win had her defeating the top person from last year’s competition.

“Courtney and Shilvi were dealing with the best of the best in this tournament – they are among the best of the best,” said Ross Eichele, BHS debate coach and teacher. “They both did very well and earned well-deserved accolades.”

Those accolades were earned as Bye and Joshi and their debate teammates all devoted hundreds of hours to research and investigation, preparation and practice, rehearsal and competition.

For Bye, a BHS senior, the 2012 tournament was her second consecutive state appearance. For Joshi the 2012 state tournament was her inaugural competition at that level.

To make it to state, the girls had to finish among the first- through sixth-place finishers in four section tournaments.

BHS was one of only six schools to qualify two individuals apiece for the state tournament this year.

During the 2012 Minnesota State Debate Tournament – the 111th anniversary of the event – Bye and Joshi competed in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, debating “whether it is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a response to domestic violence.”

Other participants competing in policy debate debated whether the federal government should increase its exploration of space beyond the earth’s mesosphere.

In all, 64 students from 28 high schools plotted affirmative and negative strategies to effectively debate these current issues during the 2012 state debate tournament.

“You have to present the affirmative and the negative on the topic,” Bye said. “The object is to convince judges that they should take your argument.”

Debaters have to know their topic exceedingly well and they have to anticipate judges’ reactions and plan an effective response, according to Eichele.

Acquiring that knowledge and achieving that strategy requires much preparation.

Like athletes training their bodies, learning technique and practicing drills, members of the debate team invest immeasurable time and energy to perfecting their passion.

Describing the hours spent researching and investigating topics, formulating strategies and comparing notes, Bye and Joshi sounded like insatiably curious students.

“It’s somewhat confounding to people,” Eichele said. “Most kids try to get out of school work, but here are some wanting to do more. It’s astounding.”

When Eichele began coaching debate at BHS six years ago, only four students were on the team. Today, 54 BHS students compete on the Bengal debate team.

Of course, Eichele is eager to welcome more to the roster and his state debate competitors serve as enthusiastic recruiters.

“Exchanging ideas and knowledge… Enhancing your perspective and opinion… Debate is fascinating. It’s remarkable,” Joshi said.

“Yes, and the more students on the team the better. The better exchange, the better research, the better competition,” Bye said, urging classmates to take a chance and check it out.

Lessons learned while participating on the debate team extend far past the five-month long debate season, Eichele said.

“What they’re learning now will pay 10-fold in their lifetime,” he said.

Debaters Bye and Joshi agree.

“Debate makes you confident in giving presentations, getting your ideas across,” Joshi said.

“You gain confidence in talking to all kinds of people. It also helps with school in general,” Bye said.

Bye hopes to go to law school after finishing her high school career, she said.

Joshi envisions a career in medicine or engineering and agrees that her experience on the debate team could boost her success in those areas.

But now, in the debate team’s off-season, Bye and Joshi (who boast a 3.95 weighted grade-point average and a 4.18 weighted grade-point average, respectively) will use their debate team skills to better understand and incorporate teachers’ lectures and assignments.

Of course, they’ll be recruiting classmates, too.

To learn more about the 2012 Minnesota State Debate Tournament, visit www.mshsl.org and click on “state debate.”

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]