South Dakota state high school debate tournament kicks off Friday in Mitchell

Twenty five teams, 200 students from around the state to descend on Mitchell High School

The 2023 South Dakota State Debate and Individual Events Tournament will be held in Mitchell Friday and Saturday.
Mitchell Republic File Photo

MITCHELL — Students from around South Dakota will compete this weekend at the 2023 South Dakota State Debate and Individual Events Tournament in Mitchell.

The tournament, which will be held at Mitchell High School and the Mitchell Performing Arts Center on Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4, will host around 200 debate students from 25 different schools from around the state, all vying to convince the judges that their argument is the superior argument.

“It’s all coming together. We’ve had a lot of community members call and email and message on Facebook and volunteer, which I’m super-thankful for, so we’ll have a good showing of the Mitchell community at the tournament.” said Madi Miller, head speech and debate coach for Mitchell High School. “Other than that it’s just making sure it doesn’t blizzard and then we’re good to go.”

Winter weather may have played havoc with school schedules this school year, but the weather forecast in Mitchell for Friday and Saturday looks good with temperatures in the upper 30s. So Miller and her nine Mitchell High School debate team members who are hosting the event are ready to roll when students come into town.

The tournament is the culmination of a long year of competition for debate students, and the tournament will feature a variety of debate styles, including Lincoln-Douglas, individual speeches and public forum debates.


Along with preparing local students for their events, Miller and other organizers have been signing up volunteer judges for some of the events. After putting out a call for judges in December, Miller said she secured several judges to help handle officiating duties.

“It was a little slow at first, but over the past two weeks or so we’ve had a lot of interest from past teachers, retired individuals, parents and a lot of people from some of the smaller towns around Mitchell who are super-interested in this and volunteered to help out,” Miller said.

Judges will be busy Friday handling three rounds of debates, watching different sets of competitors each time. More rounds will follow on Saturday as the competition moves forward into the quarterfinal rounds and beyond and competitors are eliminated. For that reason, fewer judges will be needed as the tournament progresses.

Mitchell hosted the 2023 South Dakota State Oral Interpretation Festival in early December, serving as a bit of a practice run for the debate tournament. It’s been an exciting year being able to host both events, Miller said, but the competition schedule has been hampered by the harsh December weather that kept students from attending various events.

Mitchell hosts looking for dozens of volunteers to fill role

Mitchell High School last hosted the state debate tournament in 2017, and Miller said it’s always special when the local debate students get to welcome other students from around the state.

“I find that our students take a lot more ownership over the tournament when it’s held here,” Miller said. “Even though it is a state tournament, the Mitchell High School students are super-excited to welcome everyone to our school and are excited to help set up the night before and excited to help the volunteers and show them what it’s all about.”

The event is open to the public both days, and Miller said anyone interested in taking in some solid debate from talented students should consider stopping by for at least some of the competition. It’s a great chance to hear differing viewpoints on popular hot-button topics, and attendees may even find themselves swayed into a new way of thinking based on what they hear.

Miller said that one of the topics expected to be debated actually helped draw some interest from the public in terms of volunteering. Students are expected to go back-and-forth on unions and right-to-work laws, a relevant topic considering South Dakota is a right-to-work state and one she thinks the public may find interesting.


“Once (we announced) they would be debating right-to-work laws and unions, people reached out. I hope they find it interesting,” Miller said.

2023 South Dakota State Debate Sched by inforumdocs on Scribd

Miller noted that the public can still volunteer if they want by checking in with organizers during the event.

Events kick off Friday with registration at 7:30 a.m. and continue throughout the day and into the evening. The first debate event is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. the first round of Lincoln-Douglas debates. The last event of the day, Public Forum Debate Round 3, begins at 8:30 p.m.

The second day of the tournament will begin at 8:30 a.m. with the octo-finals of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and wrap up at 5:45 p.m. the state debate and individual events tournament awards presentation.

The event is free to attend and open to the public. Information on where particular students or teams may be debating can be found when the tournament begins at an information table that will be set up in the main entrance to Mitchell High School on Capital Street.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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