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HCBA Hosts Middle School Debates
December 7, 2011

Over 40 middle school students filled the halls of the Minnesota Law Center on Nov. 10 for a policy debate tournament hosted by the HCBA and the Minnesota Urban Debate League. The HCBA, MSBA, VLN, and Minnesota CLE all opened up their offices for the event and over 20 attorneys volunteered to serve as judges for the tournament. 

Before the debate rounds, students discussed the legal profession with attorneys who would later judge their debates. After a “Q &A” with the legal careers panel, the debate teams competed in three rounds of competition.

The students’ policy debates are much different than political debates seen on TV. A policy debate is made up of two two-person teams that debate a given resolution.  Each participant gives a constructive speech establishing their case, a cross-examination of their opponent, and a rebuttal responding to attacks by their opponent. 

This year’s debate topic, selected by the National Forensic League and narrowed down by the Minnesota Urban Debate League, was whether or not the United States federal government should initiate a human mission to Mars. The students showcased their wits with arguments covering just about everything from astronauts to asteroids. 

The winning team was made up of Dylan Gillespie and Ellie Thorsgaard from Murray Junior High in Minneapolis.  The top speaker was Emma Quinn Gregor from Laura Jeffrey Academy in St. Paul.

“The students had an amazing experience hearing from folks in the legal profession and debating in front of lawyers,” said Amy Cram Helwich, Executive Director of the Minnesota Urban Debate League.

By competing in debate, students are able to further develop reading proficiency, critical thinking, public speaking, and other skills that will help them academically.   The Minnesota Urban Debate League provides debate programs in urban schools that would not be able to offer such programs due to budget constraints.  There are 14 middle schools and nine high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul with programs through the Minnesota Urban Debate League.

This is the second time the HCBA has hosted a tournament with the Minnesota Urban Debate League.   The partnership is a part of the bar association’s initiatives to build the diversity pipeline.   This year’s tournament was the first of the season and attorneys are encouraged to volunteer once or twice during the upcoming season.  Due to the programs rapid growth, finding judges for the middle school tournaments is a critical need.  Debate experience is not required.   Future middle school tournaments will take place in December, February, and March at various locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Attorneys interested in volunteering at future tournaments with the Minnesota Urban Debate League should contact Amy Cram Helwich at 651-307-5773 or 

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