Seven members of Eden Prairie High School’s (EPHS) debate team qualified at section tournaments and are heading to the state tournament, to be held this weekend at the University of Minnesota.
State qualifiers are Lalitha Gunturi and Siona Kaura, a Public Forum team, Tavishi Chakraborty and Frantz, a Public Forum team, Srijani Datta, Lincoln-Douglas, Harshan Chandrasekar, Congressional Debate, and Nikhil Kori, Congressional Debate.
Gunturi, Kaura, Chakraborty, Frantz, and Datta qualified after strong debate performances at Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) 6AA Section Debate Tournament at Eagan High School on Jan. 6-7, where Sophia Lin also represented Eden Prairie in Lincoln-Douglas. Chandrasekar and Kori had already qualified at Congressional Debate sections in mid-December.
“Our section is one of the toughest in the nation and especially in Minnesota, so qualifying for state is a big deal,” Chandrasekar said.
Frantz agreed, adding, “Especially with the people we were going up against. Wayzata and Edina are nationally recognized debate teams with long-running, very successful programs. Eden Prairie hasn’t been super well known as of recent years. So us going against them is usually a pretty big thing in general.”
Chakraborty, Frantz’s Public Forum partner, said, “Frantz and I just went in there wanting to have fun. Debate is stressful, but we wanted to qualify. It was pretty surprising though that we ended up qualifying.”
Lead debate captain Datta summed up the mood: “We had pretty good success. The main goal now is to do well at state.”
State tournament is Jan. 13-14 at University of Minnesota
The Debate State Tournament, which is MSHSL’s longest-running event, will take place in person at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis on Friday, Jan. 13 and Saturday, Jan. 14. The tournament was held virtually in 2021 and 2022.
Elimination rounds will take place Friday and again on Saturday morning, with
quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals on Saturday afternoon. Winners will be awarded Saturday night in four categories: Congressional Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Public Forum, and Policy Debate. EPHS competes in the first three, but not in Policy Debate.
EP’s Datta is one of the two highest returning qualifiers in Lincoln-Douglas, having reached semifinals at last year’s state tournament.
She said the team is hard at work preparing for the tournament. Part of the prep involves reworking debates and arguments to make them stronger, based on feedback from previous tournaments.
“If an opponent read evidence that took apart a big chunk of our argument, we might rework that section of the argument or find evidence against it,” she said. “So we’re not just practicing arguing, we’re going over stuff we’ve already said to make it stronger.”
Kaura, who does Public Forum with Gunturi, said, “For Public Forum and Lincoln-Douglas, we have our cases we’ve written out beforehand. But a lot of times we have to prepare different arguments or evidences on the other people’s cases. So a lot of work this week is to figure out what cases other people are running, and know how to respond to those.”
Chakraborty said part of Public Forum debate is the “never ending” need to be prepared, since a newly published opinion or article might mean “your whole argument could be demolished.”
Frantz added, “You need to be constantly on top of things. You never know what Biden’s going to do tomorrow. And if it screws with your policy, it is what it is, and you need to be prepared to roll with it. So whether or not you feel prepared, tomorrow you could feel entirely unprepared. It’s kind of a constant battle.”
Congressional Debate involves a completely different kind of preparation, Chandrasekar said. “Every week there’s a tournament, we’re given a set of bills and laws that we discuss and debate over, and we have to prepare speeches for and against each side.
“For the upcoming tournament, Congress has preliminary sessions and final sessions, and for the prelims alone we have 18 bills and then for finals, six bills. So we have to make our speeches and prepare for those.”
“It’s limited prep, because you have to respond to so many different people at a time,” Kori said. “So it’s more that you’re coming up with very simple argumentation for each law, because there are 23 topics to prep.”
State tournament information including a schedule and results can be viewed on the MSHSL debate website.
Team is focused on growth, strength, and depth
EPHS debate is a relatively young team, but one that has quickly grown into a formidable competitor.
Datta, who is a senior, said a small debate team was started a few years ago by three students, and she joined the group shortly after. “My freshman year was the first year where we had real debate team of 7 or 8 students.”
However, she said, “We were not a school-funded activity. A lot of schools have established programs with established coaches, and alumni who come back and give back to the team once they graduate.
“Our goal since then has been to grow our program to be like that of Edina, Minnetonka, or Apple Valley. So that’s what we’ve been working on throughout my four years in high school.”
EPHS agreed three years ago to begin funding the team, which now has over 50 members who compete in three forms of debate: Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum, and Congressional Debate.
“Hopefully as the years go on and people graduate, we’ll have that alumni coaching ability as well,” Datta said. “So we’re a pretty new team, but we do well with the resources that we have.”
December and January are busy months for the team with three high-stake tournaments for each type of debate.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find that motivation to argue every single weekend, but we really love what we do,” Datta said. “And it’s an honor just to be competing in these tournaments, because they do have a limited number of entries.”
Datta said the team only sends entries to these tournaments who they feel confident can do well. Members work hard all season to build technical skills and move up in the team’s internal rankings so they can be considered to represent EPHS.
Gunturi said all of the hard prep work is completely worth it for the fun of competing together. “There are just some amazing moments we’ve had as a team, on days we’ve won and days we’ve lost. Tournaments are the best part of debate, especially if you can get to these higher-ranking tournaments later in the season.”
“It’s really rewarding to see your work pay off, especially when you win in something as competitive as debate,” Chakraborty said. “Because you know you’ve put in the time and effort, and you deserve that win.”
Team sees many benefits to debate
All of the debaters heading to state spoke enthusiastically about their experiences with debate and the EPHS team.
Kaura said debate has helped her improve at public speaking and to think on her feet. “It’s helped me not only in debate but in everything I do.” Her message to fellow students: “If you’re even thinking about trying it, I can 100% guarantee it will make your life better.”
Kori agreed and said, “It builds confidence for a lot of the people who join. Our team has a good balance between being competitive but also being helpful and understanding. We have a good support system, even if we don’t have official coaches. We’re open to helping new members and I think that’s helped grow the team pretty well.”
Gunturi said that although debate is about competition, winning isn’t the most important part. “We want everyone to try their best, but sometimes there are weeks where its not going to go in our favor. It’s happened to all of us.
“We really try to build a community where we teach people how to bounce back, and not let losing one tournament hurt you or make you feel like a bad debater. We teach a mindset towards debate rather than just how to debate.”
Chakraborty agreed that learning resilience is key. “Debate really teaches you how to have a lot of grit,” she said. “In a tournament, you cannot let one round define who you are as a debater, or how smart you are. Debate teaches you how to bounce back from a loss and come back even stronger.”
Datta said, “We do debate because it builds character, and that really develops as you progress. When you win, you learn humility and grace. When you lose, you learn persistence, and as Tavishi said, grit. Those soft skills are the most important things you take away as a debater.”
Frantz said learning how to think independently and critically is one of the most important parts of debate. “It keeps you aware of the world. You’re unlikely to see a political policy and blindly follow it.
“The amount of research I’ve done on random topics has completely changed my view of most politics in America that I see on a day-to-day basis. The likelihood of you being solely influenced by the news or your parents goes significantly down when you’re the one actually doing the research.”
Frantz said debate also has many “practical benefits” like helping improve writing and exam skills, and increasing college readiness.
“The research you do in debate is unlike anything you do in normal school,” they said. “It will help you so much going into the future. Not to mention, debate has turned me from a kid who dreaded presentations to loving it.”
Chandrasekar added, “And most importantly, debate is just fun. You meet new people and make friends from other schools you wouldn’t meet normally. It’s a great way to expand your connections and have fun with your friends.”
We offer several ways for our readers to provide feedback. Your comments are welcome on our social media posts (Facebook, X, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn). We also encourage Letters to the Editor; submission guidelines can be found on our Contact Us page. If you believe this story has an error or you would like to get in touch with the author, please connect with us.