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New team is up for debate at East Ridge

East Ridge High School’s new debate team includes 14 students. The team competes in the public forum category. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

Arguing may not fall under the umbrella of “Minnesota nice,” but that’s not stopping East Ridge High School.

East Ridge launched its first-ever debate team this year.

“Minnesota doesn’t have a huge debate presence,” said Katie Scholz, the debate team coach. “Debate is something you always see in high school movies – they’re the debate kids – but we didn’t have a debate team so it was kind of sad.”

Scholz, who also coaches speech at East Ridge and previously coached speech at Woodbury High School, said she was approached by several students she had coached in speech about starting a debate team this year.

“I think current events is a particular interest of a lot of ours,” said East Ridge junior, and Woodbury resident, Noah Eckberg, who approached Scholz about starting the debate team.

Scholz said she quickly jumped at the chance to start a team because speech had made such an impact in her life, so debate could function the same way for other students.

“I actually suffered from extreme anxiety disorder in high school and speech was something that made a huge difference in my life and my ability to function as a human being,” she said. “Plus, debate sounded like fun and I’m a lawyer so I thought I could probably figure it out.”

The East Ridge debate team currently has 14 members.

“I really like arguing,” East Ridge sophomore and Woodbury resident Alex Fenner said.

What is debate?

Debate, which is offered through the Minnesota State High School League, is split up into four categories: policy, Lincoln-Douglas, public forum and congressional.

Since East Ridge is a new and relatively young team, Scholz said she opted to only compete in the public forum category.

According to the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association, public forum debate can be compared to a nationally televised debate, such as “Crossfire,” in which debaters argue a topic of national importance.

The debate is conducted by teams of two people alternating speeches for their side, either affirming or negating their topic.

“I try to teach my students to pin the other side in a box,” Scholz said.

Successful public forum debaters must make persuasive and logical arguments in a manner that is accessible to a wide variety of audiences.

“I really like hearing the ideas that other teams present,” East Ridge freshman and Cottage Grove resident Jackie Lu said.

Public forum debate also focuses on not only logical, but research-based arguments.

“Students have to have a functional understanding of how to research,” Scholz said. “I make a big point of not doing their research for them.”

In October, East Ridge competed in three debate meets in which the same resolution was argued.

October’s resolution was: “Is unilateral military force by the United States justified to prevent nuclear proliferation?”

For November, which included a total of four meets, the resolution was: “Do the benefits of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency outweigh the harms?”

And for December and January, which will be both national qualifying matches and section tournaments, the question is: “Should immigration reform include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States?”

Since East Ridge is only competing in one of the four categories, the school does not qualify for school rankings, but individual students have received “speaker awards” at almost every meet, Scholz said.

“I think we’re doing very well for a team that’s competing for the first time,” she said. “I’m not as interested in getting trophies as I am about them getting the most out of this they can.”

Even though East Ridge includes all “novice” members, students are competing in the junior varsity and varsity divisions.

“I’d rather them be the worst in the pack and see what the really good teams are like,” Scholz said.

Developing new skills

Scholz said debate teaches a variety of skills including public speaking, how to research and how to concisely craft an argument.

“One of the biggest things I work with my students right away on is getting rid of their ‘ums, uhs, likes and ers,’” she said.

Scholz said she would like to see the East Ridge debate team grow next year to include more students, maybe a second coach and maybe even additional categories.

“I want to have the team bigger because it’s important for students to have self-confidence in their speaking abilities,” she said.

If you are interested in joining, or coaching, the East Ridge High School debate team contact the team at

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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