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5 head to national debate event

The debate team at Mitchell High School has been around for more than 80 years, but it's still covering new ground.

Mitchell debate coach Ron Grimsley said a school-best five students will participate in the National Forensic League Speech and Debate Tournament next week in Overland Park, Kan., outside Kansas City. Mitchell's Luke Bartl and Mason Wenzel will compete in the Public Forum Debate category, which is a two-person event. Ryan Solberg qualified in the Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking competition. Landon Pooley and A.J. Krumholz each will compete in the Student Congress event.

The national competition opens with the preliminary rounds Monday and Tuesday, before elimination begins Wednesday. The final rounds in most events will be held Friday.

Each category has more than 200 students, and those fields will be whittled down to about 70 participants. From there, the competition takes an elimination format until a winner is declared.

Grimsley said the school's program dates back to 1930, but has never sent five students to nationals before.

Bartl and Wenzel won the qualifying event helding in Brookings in March for Public Forum Debate. Solberg earned his place after taking second during the national qualifier.

Grimsley said the group has practiced a few times since school ended for the year, but also acknowledged that by this time in the season, the students know what to expect.

"We know the topics and what to prepare for," Grimsley said. "There's a lot of research and background information that you need to know and our students have been preparing on those things."

Wenzel is participating for a third time, and is only the second student in school history to qualify for nationals three times, according to Grimsley. But unlike those previous trips when he earned his trip in Domestic Extemporaneous speaking, he will be in the Public Forum Debate competition this time with Bartl.

"It really will be a brand new experience for me, even though I've already been to nationals before," Wenzel said.

He said the difference is the discipline of the competitors and their preparation.

"You have to put in the time and be ready," Wenzel said. "You have to stay strict to your research and really prepare."

He said the team's debate topic is whether the North American Treaty Organization, or NATO, should strengthen its relationship with Ukraine in order to deter further aggression from Russia.

Grimsley said the students are already in the top 1 percent of those participating in debate nationwide. He said students will try to speak in a way that appeals broadly, and said one needs a little luck to be successful, too.

"Regardless of how they do down there, it's already quite the accomplishment," he said. "It's a real highlight and I think it will be a great experience for the students to compete at this level."