The state of debate: BHS debaters prepare for state, nationals

Six Brainerd High School debaters hope to make a strong showing at the 2017 Minnesota State High School League state debate tournament this weekend in Minneapolis.

Six Brainerd High School debaters hope to make a strong showing at the 2017 Minnesota State High School League state debate tournament this weekend in Minneapolis.

Teams can qualify two students in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, an individual competition, and two teams of two students for public forum, coach Dave Pritschet said. Senior Camryn Schmidt and sophomore Maddie Schuld qualified in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, while seniors Kyle Hensel, Patrick Meyer, Luke Norquist and Danny Stokes qualified for public forum.

It's a seasoned group of debaters with past state tournament experience, Pritschet said. Still, it's tough to predict success, he said, as it depends on the six preliminary round matchups. If a debater wins four of those matchups, they've got a good shot at "breaking," and moving on to the knockout round.

"We've got a good shot at breaking," Pritschet said. "But if we don't break, that's not really a reflection on the kids that much."

Debaters from schools outside the Twin Cities are seen as underdogs compared to metro debaters, Pritschet said. Still, Brainerd has a reputation as a solid program, he said, which helps overcome that bias.


The state debate tournament, the longest-running MSHSL event, marks its 116th anniversary this year. The tournament is Friday and Saturday at Blegen Hall, Herbert M. Hanson, Jr. Hall and the Hubert H. Humphrey Center on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. The tournament features three divisions-policy, Lincoln-Douglas and public forum.

The National Speech and Debate Association recently honored the BHS debate team with its 2015-16 Leading Chapter Award in the Northern Lights District, which the team competes in. The award was a surprise, Pritschet said, and he admitted he hadn't heard of the award before he received the letter telling him the team won it.

The award serves as a recognition of the program's longevity, Pritschet said. The recognition letter notes only 110 schools receive a Leading Chapter Award each year, out of more than 3,000 member schools nationwide.

"A lot of people have worked really hard to get the program where it is," Pritschet said.

Hundreds of students have gone through the program during the 21 years Pritschet has been involved. When he enters results into the National Speech and Debate Association database, he said he can see the archived records of those past debaters.

"It's like, 'Oh, I remember that kid from 2003,'" Pritschet said. "It's kind of nice to see an actual number to it. There have been a lot of kids who have gone through debate and speech."

National preview

The 2017 National Speech and Debate Association tournament is June 18-23 in Birmingham, Ala. So far, three BHS debaters have qualified for the national tournament, but more could qualify during the upcoming speech season.


Stokes and Norquist qualified in public forum after taking first place in the district tournament, Pritschet said, and went undefeated during the tournament's seven rounds. It's their first time qualifying for nationals in public forum, as Hensel and Meyer qualified for nationals last year.

Stokes and Norquist have a chance to break at nationals, Pritschet said, but a lot of it depends on how hard they work for it. Their debate style will be appealing on the national stage, he said, as their experience together gives them good rapport.

"They're likeable as they debate," Pritschet said. "They don't use a lot of jargon, they're not super fast, they're pretty technical, they explain things clearly."

Schmidt qualified for nationals in Student Congress, after qualifying the last two years in Lincoln-Douglas Debate and breaking into the knockout rounds both years. It was surprising to see Schmidt fail to qualify for nationals in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Pritschet said, but she ran into two top debaters in the double-elimination district tournament. Now, she's hoping to qualify for nationals in speech, which she did last year but opted to compete in Lincoln-Douglas Debate.

"She's not real upset about not qualifying," Pritschet said.

The BHS Debate team has had good luck in Birmingham, taking fifth place when nationals were held there in 2012. It was an awesome trip, Pritschet said, and the food was incredible. There's not much time for sightseeing during the tournament, he said, but they might have a day to see notable landmarks from the civil rights movement, which are included in the Birmingham Civil Rights District.

"I'll kind of go with what they have an interest in," Pritschet said. "A lot of times, kids like this are interested in those kinds of sites."

Students have already started practicing for the speech season, with the team's first tournament fast approaching on Jan. 21. The big gap between the end of the debate season in Minnesota and the national tournament makes it tough on debaters, Pritschet said. It's especially tough for students preparing for Advanced Placement tests in early May, who then want to take a break before the tournament.


"Trying to get them motivated after AP tests to get going and get some cases and do some rounds is kind of tough," Pritschet said. "But they've generally done pretty well."

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