In an exercise that would jangle most adults’ nerves, three Saint Michael-Albertville High School students are preparing to debate the hot policy and legislative issues of today with other high-level debaters from around the country. Lillian Albrecht, Cobin Szymanski and Ryan Davis have earned a spot at the National Speech & Debate Tournament in Dallas, Texas, next week.
Billed as the largest academic competition in the world, the National Speech & Debate Tournament spans five days and features several different types of debate. Five or six teams per state make it to the national tournament, with about 500 competitors per event. National competitors first had to excel at top levels at their state tournaments in order to earn a place in Dallas. Competitors advance if they have a winning record after six rounds, and those who don’t can participate in supplemental events so all debaters stay involved throughout the event.
From STMA, junior Ryan Davis is competing in the High School Congressional debate, which mimics the United States Congress. Debaters give a short speech, answer questions, go back and forth on a piece of legislation, vote, and then move onto the next bill. Davis said she has a lot of different pieces of legislation she’s preparing for, but she won’t know which topics she’ll debate until the round begins.
The other two students, Albrecht and Szymanski, are teaming up for a two-on-two Public Forum debate. The topic at hand is whether or not the United States federal government should enforce antitrust regulations on technology giants. The duo has been researching the topic since May 1 in preparation. They received top marks in their debate on price controls on the pharmaceutical industry at the state level earlier this year, and they’ve also taken part in debates on the national debt and the United Nations’ convention on the Law of the Sea.
The three students said they are all avid news consumers, and all three debaters have been interested in the activity since hearing about it in middle school.
“I knew I wanted to do it, and I’m glad I did,” Davis said. She said being on the debate team has made her a lot more interested in politics.
Szymanski’s eighth grade English teacher asked him to join, so the tenth grader has been involved in debate for three years now.
Albrecht, a junior, said she looked forward to joining speech and debate teams since seventh grade, when she went to her principal to seek out non-athletic extra-curricular activities.
“These are three extremely talented students,” said head coach Doug Birk. “Lillian and Cobin were recognized as All-State, which is the top 10 public forum debaters in the state. That’s the first time we ever had students recognized with that designation. All three of these students have competed at all different levels of competition at a very high level.”
Birk said the activity itself is very demanding, requiring a high amount of work ethic.
“You can’t compete in this activity without a whole lot of preparation,” he said. “Debate really puts a premium on the ability to critically think, analyze in real time and relate that information in a persuasive way to their audience.”
The St. Michael Lion’s Club has donated money to help the debate team fund their trip to the national tournament, and the students have an EdCo fundraiser online to help raise funds for the trip, which they must pay for themselves. If you’re interested in helping these local debaters get to the tournament, the fundraiser link is: https://st-michael-albertville-senior-high.ed.co/stma-debate-team.