Minneapolis South Semifinals in State Debate Tournament

This weekend, Minneapolis South High School’s partnership of Ezra Gearhart & Ava Winters finished their run at the MSHSL State Debate Tournament in Semifinals. After a great 3-0 win in the Quarterfinals, Edina advanced past Minneapolis South GW on a 4-1 decision. We are proud of these students’ accomplishments throughout the season so far!

But their season isn’t over yet- we want to wish them the best of luck at upcoming travel tournaments, including the Barkley Forum at Emory University! 

Teams from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Roseville were represented at State this year – held in-person for the first time since 2019. All had unique goals going into the tournament, and different experiences there. Learn more about the students’ and coaches’ perspectives below. 

Minneapolis South High School – Representing a School Tradition

Ezra Gearhart & Ava Winters debating

Ezra & Ava were one of two partnerships representing South at the tournament.

For the South High School debate team, State is just one of many tough tournaments where they have entered and competed. “One of the benefits of the State tournament is that it’s a much smaller pool of teams than your typical, major national circuit tournament, which is where we compete the most,” explains coach Oskar Tauring-Traxler, who is a Minneapolis South Debate alum. “They can be anywhere from 60 to 160 teams. In those types of tournaments, you can’t really do team specific research. But in this tournament, there’s a pool of 20, and we’ve debated everyone here a few times throughout the year. We know what they do stylistically, so we focused our research on strategies that are the hardest to beat.” 

South’s debaters competed with the knowledge that they were carrying on a long tradition at their school. Minneapolis South team members won both the 2020 and 2021 state tournament, and were finalists in 2022. Past South debaters have gone on to strong success on the college circuit. Gabe Chang-Deutsch has seen early success on the Dartmouth debate team as a freshman last year, and sophomore this year. Clara Conry and Annabelle Niblett, finalists in last year’s tournament, are members of the highly competitive policy debate team at Emory University. We look forward to seeing what successes they will achieve in the spring college nationals season and beyond! 

Although South is proud of its competitive debate tradition, the impact of the activity is felt beyond rounds. Ava Winters, who was one half of this year’s semifinal debate partnership, tells us: Every time I do anything in English or Social Studies class, I’m basically doing debate. I’ll annotate articles in English classes like I would cut cards. It’s fun, and it makes sense. The way I write any essay, I think of it in a debate way, I think about everything through the lens of debate. Debate improves the way I think. My thoughts are more organized and streamlined. That translates to greater coherency in the way I speak or otherwise communicate.”

Edison High School – Stretching Their Skills

Edison High School’s growing debate team is young, but energetic. Attending a tournament that is primarily designed for upperclassmen was a challenge – especially because this was their first time competing at the MSHSL State Tournament – but the students embraced the opportunity! 

Djomba Camara (left), tells us, “We tried our hardest. We came in with a good attitude. This was our first-ever varsity state tournament.” The Edison team members worked hard to prepare strategies for all angles of the NATO topic. Djomba elaborates, I love the idea of learning more about this topic, NATO. We gain so much knowledge about things like capitalism and how nations conduct war. It got me into political science and theory arguments. That really kept me interested.” 

Amado (Rey) Siasoco, who has debated with the MNUDL since middle school, tells us: “My goal for the tournament is to win on the aff and the neg once. I want to try out our new negative arguments before the season ends.” Djomba & Rey won two negative ballots throughout the tournament! 

Although the competitive season is over for Edison, the work of a debater is never really over. Now they’ll move on to prepping for next year’s topic, which was recently announced: Economic Inequality. Rey tells us that they already have begun exploring the idea of reparations as a strategy for the affirmative policy plans. 

“I want to learn more about economic concepts. I know it will help me learn a lot. I knew nothing about NATO and international politics before this year, so next year I know I’ll learn all about the economy,” says Djomba. 

Roosevelt High School – Teddies Ready to Learn

Roosevelt High School Debaters

Eleanor Nervig & Ani McQuillen debate.

Many students don’t get the opportunity to attend State until they are upperclassmen. Roosevelt High School’s young team members qualified to compete and attend the 2023 tournament. 

Ani McQuillen, who is a sophomore, tells us: “The reason I do debate is that I like seeing all the different perspectives.I think it’s fun, and a good way to learn about issues in our world and our systems. What I want to get out of this tournament is more experience learning how to run these kinds of arguments that I like so much. As a sophomore, I know I’m not going to be state champion, but I can learn a lot and I can grow from it.” 

Ani’s partner, Eleanor Nervig, is a freshman. Eleanor shares, “I really enjoy doing debate because I can hear a lot of interesting perspectives, and think critically about issues that we don’t have time to discuss much in the classroom. I’m hoping to learn as much as I can so I can be ready for the next season.” 

“I’ve been particularly blessed with this group of students,” says Melekh Akintola, Roosevelt debate alum and current coach. “Roosevelt’s team started just a year before I got there as a high school debater, so I’ve seen the whole thing. The reason I took the coaching job is because I love Roosevelt, and I know how great the students are at that school. And they keep proving me right! At the beginning of the year, all of our students were afraid to move past Novice level A. The fact that they believe in themselves now and are able to put themselves out there like that means a lot to me.” 

Highland Park Senior High School – Longtime Debaters with Long Term Goals

Highland Park debaters and coaches

Sebastian & Audrey pose with their coaches, Akeem Anderson and Kate Nozal.

Audrey & Sebastian placed in the top 10 of the preliminary tournament seeds – close to advancing to the Quarterfinals. But their season isn’t ending with State. 

Kate Nozal, Macalester College student and current coach at Highland Park, set the scene for us: “This is an important cumulative tournament for the students. They have to take a broader view of the types of arguments to prepare for, by looking at all the schools in the state who are here. The schedule is intensive. Both Audrey and Sebastian are attending State for the first time. At your first state tournament, the main goal is to keep your cool and relax. It’s intimidating – but just attending State in the first place is an honor.” 

Audrey & Sebastian both worked hard to create their strategies for State – and as a bonus, have gotten a head start on nationals preparations. Both students qualified to attend the National Speech & Debate Association Championship Tournament in Phoenix, AZ this June. 

Sebastian tells us, “Preparing and anticipation is always nerve-wracking, but once you are in the round, your muscle memory basically takes over. Especially if you’ve been doing it since middle school like us!” 

Audrey and Sebastian have undertaken dozens of debates since they started the activity back in 6th grade- but they are still being surprised by the activity. 

“Debate stays fresh and doesn’t get boring,” says Sebastian. “Every round in debate is different, and every topic is different each year. Plus, the community itself is great. When you graduate, no matter how you did, you’re always going to take that with you- even if other debaters don’t go to their school, or you don’t know them well, talking to each other for hours is a bonding experience.”

With a laugh, Audrey shares, What I like best is learning. You can’t get away with not knowing your stuff in debate. It’s an actual application of your knowledge when you get up and talk. In school, you can maybe fake it a little bit sometimes. You can’t fake it here. I like being forced to understand something no one else cares about for a full year!”  

Let’s wish Audrey & Sebastian the best of luck as their regular season closes and they prepare for nationals! 

Central High School – Arguing the Personal and Political 

Cayden and Maren debate

Cayden and Maren debate during a preliminary round at the MSHSL State Debate tournament.

Central High School seniors and co-captains Cayden Mayer & Maren Lien saw State as an opportunity to debut their new affirmative case, which is deeply personal. They will bring the case to the Urban Debate League National Championship this spring, marking the second time Mayer & Lien have attended.  It will be the first time they’ve had the opportunity to debate in-person among other urban debaters from across the nation! 

Maren & Cayden earned their bid to the tournament after being nominated and voted in by the MN Urban Debate League community.

Cayden shares, “The urban debate championship [last year] exposed us us to a lot of really interesting arguments… We also have more arguments centering critical theory and identity that we’ve been working on and it will be really fun to get to play around with those arguments and debate people who are also reading similar ones, which isn’t something that happens as much at local MN tournaments.” 

This is especially true, Cayden continued, because they are planning to read their newly debuted case about Cayden’s identity and experiences as a transgender student and debater, elaborating, “It is about how trans people are treated in debate and political discussions and how that relates to security cooperation and emerging technologies more broadly. That’ll be really, really fun to bring to a tournament like the UDL championship and to hear what people say in response.” 

Traditionally in debate, students talk about what laws the United States federal government should pass to resolve important issues, but when both sides center their identity and how it impacts us on a personal level, typically neither side is advocating for a federal government policy.  In the style of debate Cayden & Maren brought to State, students discuss different methods we can use to resolve the issues affecting their lives everyday. Cayden further explains, “These debates come down to questions like, ‘What kind of conversations should we be having in debate?’ and ‘How can we take these conversations out of round to make a change in our communities right now?’ …That to me feels the most exportable and the most applicable to the real world. This dialogue helps us think about how we as individuals can take steps to try and move forward and create a better world right now.” 

Maren added that those types of debates are the most empowering to her, because, “I feel like when we talk about the federal government as an actor to create solutions, it feels very untouchable… these debates put the agency back into the common person or the general public.” 

Cayden concluded that those debates are made possible by the mission of Urban Debate Leagues nationally, and they are grateful that, “The UDL as a whole is more diverse and brings people of different perspectives and backgrounds to an activity that historically hasn’t been as diverse. That does amazing things – like promoting the types of discussions that you get to have anywhere else and bringing different communities from across the country together.” 

Roseville Area High School – Building Connections in the Community

Roseville debaters

Roseville debaters pose with their coaches.

Michael O’Neal, community coach at Roseville Area High School, was no stranger to this tournament. “I competed at Roseville myself all four years and was the captain in my last year. I competed at State all three years after my freshman year, two being digitally and one in person. In-person is so much better. It’s a fun time going around the University of Minnesota’s campus,” Michael tells us. 

He elaborates, “For this tournament, the main thing we did differently was doing more in-person training and practicing. That makes the team and their bonding stronger. We decided to break out a new affirmative strategy at this tournament. We do like to win and we’re success oriented, but we don’t take it too seriously because we understand that we’re still learning. My debaters have created a new critical affirmative case, talking about how the voices of marginalized people sometimes get crowded out in civil discourse, and how the NATO topic can contribute to that. They really want to learn about the people around them. They want to see what varsity debate looks like among some of the best speakers in the State.” 

Roseville’s debaters shared more about their motivation for competing in debate at State. 

“I like that I can think critically about multiple sides of a real-world issue in debate,” says Abby, who competed in Lincoln Douglas Debate. 

“I like that I can use my creativity here in debate,” said Jasper, who competed in policy debate. 

Thank you to all the coaches, volunteers, parents, supporters, and hardworking students who made the 2023 MSHSL State Tournament possible. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!

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