The Start of The Season: What Debate Can Do for You  

Max O'Connor, Writer

   The MPA Debate team returns to tournaments this month after a successful 2021-22 season. “The Juggernauts” had eight teams break at State last year, including two teams (one novice and one varsity) making it to the final round.   

   But what is Classic High School Debate? Minnesota Classic Debate was created by Eastview’s head debate coach Todd Hering and MPA’s very own Mike Vergin as a more accessible alternative to highly competitive policy debate, which required many technical skills and knowledge to succeed in.    

   “We sat at a table and tried to figure out what we would do differently if we could. Then we realized, we could.” Recounts Vergin.  

   At MPA, the debate community upholds this value of accessibility by allowing a space for students in a wide variety of activities to also do and succeed in debate. This year’s debate captains all play other impressive roles in the community, from orchestra concertmaster to school co-president.   

   “I think it’s great [at MPA] people don’t have to sign their lives over to it; they can be a debater and a volleyball player.” Says Vergin.   

   Yet despite the relatively low commitment required for classic debate, it teaches students many valuable skills.  

   “Debate asks you to take a single topic, look at it from multiple perspectives, think about how those perspectives interact, think about how to use evidence to build a case, to challenge another case. Those are all the skills that we really want young people […] to learn and master and I think debate really helps with that,” says Katie Murr, US History teacher and head debate coach at MPA.  

   And it’s not just teachers who recognize the importance of the skills debate teaches you. Audrey Jakeway (’23), one of this year’s captains says: “I have more confidence in speaking and analytical skills. It’s super helpful for English classes or having to articulate myself with limited time.”   

   Zaara Nayak (’23) another captain says: “[When] speaking in class, I notice that I use fewer filler words. I can get my point across effectively and in a more coherent manner.”   

   Charlotte Bergh (‘22), MPA alum, former debate captain, and 2021 MN Debate State finalist, recognizes the effect skills learned in debate play on her life as a freshman at Yale University.: “Debate made me a much better reader and writer. That helped me at MPA, and I also think that’s been helping me a lot at college. Like the time it takes me to get through a reading, compared with some of my peers, I definitely think debate played a huge role in that.”  

   But technical skills aren’t the only thing students gain from debate, lasting friendships and a supportive community are also reported highlights.   

   “Getting to grow closer to Ruby*. She’s my best friend and getting to [debate with her] was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m really glad I got to do that.” Says Bergh.   

   [*Ruby Schweiger (’22), Charlotte’s debate partner and fellow former captain.]  

   “That we’re supportive of each other and that we work so well together. That is easily the thing I like the most [about debate at MPA]” says Murr. Once again, her perceptions are echoed by her students.   

   “My favorite part about the MPA debate community is how close-knit the team is,” says Nayak.    

   Although the debate community at MPA is a supportive one, learning any new skill can be scary. Charlotte offers words of advice to new debaters who might be struggling: “Just give it a chance. […] You might feel really overwhelmed with the pressure, or the time commitment at first, but you can do less, you can do more, and you can always build up your involvement. […] The skills you’re going to gain are things that you wouldn’t be able to gain in another activity. It’s a unique chance and everyone should take it.”