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St. Paul Students face off at Minnesota State Debate Tournament

Students from St. Paul Public Schools represented the “Saintly City” at the 2024 Minnesota State High School League (MNSHL) Minnesota State Debate Tournament, January 12-13 and the University of Minnesota.

Representing St. Paul Central and Highland Park Senior High School’s, the students participated in the two-day event, with St. Paul Central coming out on top in multiple categories.

Max Ulven and Kiernan Baxter-Kauf took home top honors in the policy debate category, defeating students from Minneapolis South 7-0 in the eight-round debate. Ulven and Baxter-Kauf argued for the federal government substantially increasing fiscal redistribution through a federal job guarantee, expanding social security and/or providing a basic income.

State Champions, Max Ulven (middle left) and Keirnan Baxter-Kauf (far left) and their opponents in the final round from Minneapolis South

“This was a great tournament,” said Ulven. “To win the state championship on top of that is nothing short of amazing.”

“I’m really impressed with how far I have come,” Baxter-Kauf said, reflecting on her personal growth. “Our community in debate is a wonderful place to be with great, supportive people that want to see us grow and succeed.”

Central students Elliot Miller and Eleanor Johnson reached the Quarterfinals in this year’s tournament, where they faced off against Edina. 

Johnson, who is a senior at Central this year, was glad to have the opportunity to advance in this year’s tournament. 

“I have been debating since Middle School, and if you told 7th grade me that one day I would not only qualify for the state tournament, but be a quarterfinalist, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she said. 

However, she added it’s not all about meeting competitive goals. “What means the most to me in debate is the opportunities I’ve had to work with younger debaters. I love coaching and judging middle school, I can’t say enough how amazing those kiddos are. I learn so much from them,” she said.                        

In addition to the individual honors, the Central debate team was named the Minnesota Debate Teacher Association (MDTA) Policy Debate Challenge Cup Champion. This cup is awarded to the team that consistently performs at a high level throughout the season, determined by the number of wins and speaker points accumulated by a team.                           

“Of course I’m proud of our team for winning the State Championship and Challenge Cup, but I’m proud we exceeded our non-competitive goals too,” said Cayden Mayer, a first year coach with Central and a Central debate alum. “We had the highest number of debate novices locally and together we built a supportive culture that promotes resilience in our debaters.”

In contrast to the honors taken home by St. Paul Central, Highland Park students Addie Joneswhite and Yao Buchl weren’t even expecting to qualify for the state tournament as underclassmen. Not only did they reach the state tournament, but also won some tough debates against the Prior Lake team, while holding their own against teams from St. Paul Central and Edina High School’s.

 “I didn’t know I could debate this well,” said Buchl. “We debated really good teams and they pushed us to make the best versions of our arguments. You learn more in harder debates and we know what we need to win next time.”

These students are members of the Minnesota Urban Debate League (MNUDL), a program of Augsburg University. MNUDL provides academic competitive debate programming for more than 1,300 middle and high school students in the Twin Cities. 

The MNSHL Minnesota State Debate Tournament is the longest running MSHSL event. The 2024 tournament was the 123rd edition.

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