Monday, January 23, 2012

Edina SS: State Policy Debate Champions

Because debaters focus on one topic over the entire season, it is often said that the research involved in one year of policy debate is equal to the amount of research necessary for a Master's degree. Congratulations to these dedicated students and their adult supporters!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper 

2011-2012 Policy Debate Topic
Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

This heady resolution is the Policy Debate Topic for High School Debate in the 2011-12 season. This past weekend, the Edina High School Policy Debate Team "Edina SS" (Mimi Sergent-Leventhal and Erin Sielaff) won the Minnesota State High School League’s 2012 State Tournament.

If you have never seen a policy debate in person, it is a combination of quick thinking, quick speaking, cross-examination, strategy, and tension. I had the privilege of watching the final round of the state tournament on Saturday in Blegen Hall on the University of Minnesota’s campus. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the auditorium was that the room was freezing. I was unsure how the students were going to debate with chattering teeth. And no, unheated rooms are not as a rule part of debate: this just must have been one more cost-cutting measure by the University.

After we got settled in, we looked down to the front of the auditorium. Both finalist teams (Edina and Blake) were seated on opposite sides of a podium. Surrounding the Edina Team was the debate coaching staff: Sheila Peterson, Rohan Sadagopal, Chris Stinson, and Brett Lind.  Edina SS had the added benefit of help from EHS grad Trevor Aufderheide, who was a debate state finalist in 2010. The entire team was working fervently to create the best affirmative strategy for the resolution posted above.

Soon thereafter the debate started. Edina SS used a creative strategy to run a new affirmative argument that they had not previously presented. By doing this, they effectively had Blake scrambling to figure out the new argument and coming up with their own strategy to win. Although the students speak extremely fast (called Spreading – short for speed reading), with a little bit of concentration you can pick up the important parts of the debate. Personally, I really liked the cross-examination portions of the debate, as the students’ personalities were on display – much like a lawyer in the courtroom.

At the conclusion of the debate, both sides shook hands and then sat down to wait for the 5 judges to tally the ballots. The 5 judges do not coordinate their results. Each judge works by him/herself to decide which team did the best job: the affirmative or negative argument. After each judge had completed filling out the ballot, he (in this debate, all the judges were male) would hand the ballot to the “Man in the Suit.” The Man in the Suit would put the folded ballot into his notebook and head over to the next judge. It did take a while for the last judge to complete his ballot. He had some questions for the debaters and he worked methodically. Finally, he handed this last ballot to the Man in the Suit, and the awards ceremony was about to begin.

The ceremony started with the presentation of the quarterfinalists. This included "Edina MY" (Dustin Meyers-Levy and Jon Yang), the other Edina team to qualify for state. (Congratulations, Dustin and Jon, on reaching Quarterfinals in State!) At this point, my palms were sweating, as I knew after the Semifinalists were introduced we would finally hear the names of the State Champs. It was a very stressful moment and my heart was pounding! At long last we came to the final round, and the Man in the Suit announced that on a 4-1 decision Edina SS – Mimi Sergent-Leventhal and Erin Sielaff were the 2012 State Champions! I nearly burst into tears of joy - for those who don’t know me, I am a somewhat dramatic person and this was a very dramatic moment.

I am exceedingly proud of the students and coaches that make up the Edina Debate Team. They are a wonderful group of people. In addition, there should be no doubt about the quick thinking, public speaking, and problem solving skills these debate students acquire - at the 2012 State Tournament these skills were on full display.

Congratulations to Edina SS - Erin and Mimi on your State Championship! Congratulations to the Edina Debate Coaching Staff on a job well done. And thank you to the EHS and District Staff for their unending support!

We are all looking forward to next year.

(For more on debate, see this article in Wired Magazine featuring a photo of Erin Sielaff and a video clip of "spreading.")

Paula Sell, Chair
Edina Friends of Forensics Parent Board

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