The Brainerd High School Lincoln-Douglas debate team had a slow start this season, but ended on a high note.
For the first time in Brainerd High School history the team took first and second place at the section meet, advancing juniors Carmen Cummings and Kellen Riley to state competition. Cummings won the section meet and placed in the quarterfinals at state and Riley took second at sections and took 13th place at state. Both students then qualified for nationals, which will be this June in Salt Lake City.
L-D debate coach Dave Pritschet said the team has had one person place at sections in the past, not two. He said only four students can advance to state and having two from Brainerd was exciting.
"I expected that one student may qualify for state, but I didn't think two would go," he said.
Pritschet said the season started out slow, but later the students began to place in tournaments. He said the students became more committed. There were 13 students on the team and about six of them went to a majority of the 13 regular tournaments. There were no seniors on the team. Last year, three seniors graduated.
Pritschet said about six of the students will likely return next season. He said attrition continues to be a problem for the Lincoln-Douglas debate team. He said people don't realize the hard work and time that goes into becoming a good debater, plus most of the tournaments are on the weekends.
"Some students spend 16 hours a week on their debate and others spend about six," he said. "This is not the only thing they do. They are in other activities. At other schools, debate is the only thing the students do and they compete against other teams out of state."
Pritschet said Cummings and Riley each have their own style of how they debate. He said Cummings, who has been in debate since she was in eighth grade, has her own style and will not change it for any tournament.
Riley, on the other hand, changes his style for each judge at the tournament. Pritschet said there are judges who are more conservative than others and Riley will adjust his debate so he can win.
Riley said adjusting his style was the most frustrating thing. He said he didn't understand how to adjust his style until later into the season.
Riley joined debate a 1-1/2 years ago. This season he won 46 out of 77 rounds and placed in several tournaments, including winning a tournament at the University of Minnesota, where he won a $1,600 scholarship.
Riley's interest in debate is mainly the competition. He spent about 16 hours a week preparing for debates.
"I'm very competitive," he said. "And if I lose? You learn from it and you win next time. It's OK to lose as long as you know why you lost."
Riley's goal next year for debate is to qualify for the national Tournament of Champions.
Cummings won 42 out of 57 rounds this season.
"This is the best season I've had so far," said Cummings. "I learned a lot more than I did in other seasons."
Cummings said Lincoln-Douglas interested her when she joined because she liked the philosophical aspect of the debate. She said she is good at research. She said the topics are interesting and keep her informed about the world.
Both Riley and Cummings said they plan to join debate next year.
Also on the Lincoln-Douglas debate team were novices Rianna Kelash, a 10th-grader, and Soraya Hills, an 11th-grader. Pritschet said he was impressed with the students because they put in a lot a work and did well this season.
Kelash said she joined debate because she needed something to do. She competed at four tournaments and placed in one. She said she was pleased with the season.
The hardest thing for Kelash was learning how to argue effectively. The easiest was preparing her arguments. Kelash said one of her strongest assets in debate is thinking on her feet.
Adam Pelkey, a sophomore, and Brian Agre, an 11th-grader, are partners on the policy debate team. In policy debate, the students argue issues that are based on evidence, not morals, like Lincoln-Douglas.
Policy debaters only debate one topic a season.
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