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New Women’s Foundation of MN Funding Supports Debate as Leadership

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota Grants $25,000 For Today & Tomorrow’s Leaders In Debate

middle school debaters

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has partnered with the MNUDL for over a decade now. We’re happy to announce that, through their newest grant cycle, our debate programs have been selected for $25,000 of funding!

Through their Young Women’s Initiative-Investing in the Field grant, the foundation is supporting organizations at the forefront of intersecting areas of economic opportunity, safety, respect, and leadership on behalf of and with young women to advance their YWI Blueprint for Action.

Learn more about how our debate programs impact young women: 

Continue reading “New Women’s Foundation of MN Funding Supports Debate as Leadership”

Spanish Debate Spotlight: Shelley Pacheco

The Anwatin team was the place for Shelley to grow as a leader and as a speaker.

She Served Her School by Starting an All-Star Team. 

Shelley fell in love with debate while competing in the Spanish Debate League at Anwatin Middle School. “Debate was a hobby for me to express who I am. I also love arguing with people, and learning the different topics. It’s also a way to get to know other people and have more connections,” Shelley says.

By the time Shelley was attending her first year of high school, only a national topic policy team was available at Edison. That didn’t dissuade Shelley, who persisted in dreaming up a team.  

Marni Ginther, the Spanish Debate League coach at Edison HS, recalls the moment Shelley and Mirly approached her about beginning a team: “When two students come to you wanting to form a debate team, how can you say no? It seems like way too cool and nerdy of a thing to pass up!” Although Ms. Ginther was new to debate, she was open to any activity which inspires so much passion. “At the high school level, there are moments where you wonder if there is anything that gets students excited. When they do really want to do something, it’s important to let it blossom,” she continues. 

“We decided to talk to the principal, and we soon were able to have a Spanish debate team because of it,” says Shelley.

By bringing Spanish Debate to Edison, Shelley will help her teammates achieve the deeper connections, just like she had at Anwatin. “When I joined Spanish debate, I became more connected with my teammates and my teachers, because they were speaking my native language with me. During school, you don’t really talk in Spanish. It was helpful for me to keep talking my native language, but doing something new with it,” she explains.

Ms. Ginther explains that even though she was new to coaching, she felt more prepared because Shelley & Mirley brought “items from the toolkit” their former coach at Anwatin used: “Those two know what to do. They really help the newer members feel more comfortable. I’ve watched them mature as leaders. It’s one of the things that happens so slowly, until there’s a moment you see your students as a completely different person.

Staying committed to debate also allowed Shelley to achieve her dream of attending college. She received the Augsburg Promise scholarship to study sociology at Augsburg University. “I just know that I want to give back to my community and be a part of change,” Shelley elaborated. “There aren’t many diverse people in the police departments. I want to help people and the government by doing good in the community. My dream job is to be part of the FBI or the CIA. It’s a high goal, but I feel like I can accomplish it if I want to.” 

The Spanish Debate League helped Shelley pursue her dreams. Now, as our organization’s LEAD Fellow, she’s helping even more students access opportunity through debate by judging debate rounds, assisting with programming, and recruiting Spanish debate judges. 

Beyond giving back, Shelley looks forward to reconnecting with other students in the Spanish Debate League: “I can’t wait to see my old coaches and teammates!”

Help make our Spanish Debate program possible for more students like Shirley! 

Become a member of Advocates for Debate, our monthly giving community. Your donation provides year-round programming. 

Ways to Get Involved

Be Our Champion!

Increase Our Momentum With Your Gift 

  • Make a One Time Donation: Your one-time gift of $100 is enough to pay the entry fee for four high school students – connecting them with exciting, experiential, and rigorous learning! 
  • Become an Advocate for Debate: Join our monthly giving community. With your help, we will achieve “Monthly Giving, Lifelong Learning” for our amazing debaters! 
  • Sponsor the Mayors Challenge: Learn more about this exciting event from last year’s report.

Give Monthly | Give a Single Gift | Sponsor the Mayors Challenge: | (612) 359-6467

Support Learning Through Leadership 

  • Empower Young Women: Be a part of our brand-new financial literacy debates. We’re seeking women in the financial services sector to be instructors and debate judges.
  • Contribute Your Vision: We’re seeking committed leaders to become new members for advisory and young professionals board. 
  • Host a Summer Fellow: Diversify the pipeline to the law and corporate fields by hosting our debaters in your workplace for a summer fellowship. Read about the 2019 Summer Fellow’s experience at Gray Plant Mooty. 

Contact | (612) 359-6467


Judge Debates All Year Round (temporarily closed)


We depend on debate judges to make our debate tournaments possible. Judges watch debate rounds, evaluate teams on their argumentation skills, and choose a winner for each round. Opportunities to judge are subject to COVID-19-related restrictions. 

  • Financial Literacy Debate: April (suspended)
  • Spanish Debate League: March-May Weekday Evenings (suspended)
  • Somali Debate League: Apr.-Jun. Weekday Evenings (suspended)
  • Summer Camp: Jun-Jul Weekday Evenings; Weekend Mornings & Afternoons (suspended)
  • Next semester: 
    • High School Policy Debate: Sept.-Dec. Weekend Mornings & Afternoons
    • Middle School Policy Debate: Feb.-March Weekday Evenings

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Aff Side/Neg Side: Should We Colonize Mars?

Are We Ready for Blastoff? Middle School Students Debate Mars Colonization

NASA Drawing of Mars Colonization
Courtesty of NASA Images

The 2019-20 middle school debate resolution is: The USFG should substantially increase NASA’s Mars colonization budget.

Space colonization is bound to spark the imagination – but should the federal government fund it? During the process of learning policy debate basics, middle school students use academic evidence to weigh whether policies are worth pursuing based on the harms of inaction, the benefits of pursuing action, and more.

Each of our middle school teams are fired up to compete at next week’s Conference Championships. They’ve been preparing all season to bring their best to these debates about the benefits and drawbacks of funding Mars colonization. 

Where do you stand? See if these middle school debaters will change your mind! 

Continue reading “Aff Side/Neg Side: Should We Colonize Mars?”

Black History Month: They Broke Ground in Debate & Beyond

To celebrate Black History Month, we want to highlight some African American debaters who were trailblazers – whether in debate, in their field of expertise, or both. Because there are an incredible number of noteworthy African American debaters, please note that this list is not exhaustive! Here are just a handful of people we want to celebrate. They illustrate a tradition of excellence in and out of the debate space. These debaters made history: 


Benjamin Mays: A Leader Training Leaders

Benjamin Mays and Debate Team

Benjamin Mays was the mentor to many critically important civil rights activists, including MLK, Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, and more. He is seen above with his fellow 1919 debate team members at Bates College. 

The Next Generation of Debaters Made Waves

Civil Rights Collage

James Farmer (upper left). MLK (upper right). Malcolm X (lower left). Bayard Rustin (lower right). These prominent civil rights leaders all used sharp debate skills to bolster their advocacy. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a member of his high school’s debate team and competed in oratorical contests. Malcolm X was a middle school debater and debated some of the nation’s top debaters from Harvard and Yale when he participated in Norfolk Prison’s debating program. Bayard Rustin debated at Wilberforce College, while James Farmer competed at Wiley College (the HBCU famously featured in The Great Debaters). 

Continue reading “Black History Month: They Broke Ground in Debate & Beyond”

Happy Thank a Coach Week! – Celebrating Our Middle School Mentors

Anyone who’s been part of a team knows that it’s strong leadership that makes programs thrive. That’s why we were excited when Governor Walz declared this week Thank A Coach/Advisor Week: “to promote and support the thousands of coaches and advisers in Minnesota that are making a positive difference in their communities.”

We’re grateful to each and every one of our coaches for our national topic and community-led programs – but we’re especially grateful for our middle school mentors. In our middle school debate programming, current high school debaters assist at teams across Minneapolis & St. Paul.

These middle school mentors set stellar examples of leadership by teaching debate skills, using their deep knowledge of the topic, and encouraging students through their first tournaments. They’ve got a full slate of responsibilities as high school debaters, but they still make the time to work with middle school teams!

Middle school mentors also serve as a familiar face when middle school students transition into high school teams. Thank you so much to our coaches – whether community coaches, teacher coaches, or high school mentors – for accelerating our cycle of programming!

Isabel - Urban Debate
Isabel earned the MS Community Coach of the Year Award last year.

Isabel Kleckner Supports Self-Belief and Critical Thinking

Isabel, current Washburn debater, has been coaching at Justice Page Middle School for two years.

She’s motivated to give students the opportunity to debate and to ease the high school transition: “It was helpful for me to see familiar faces when I walked into Washburn debate practice in my freshman year and my middle school coach was still there. I wanted the kids at Justice Page to also have that when they came to debate for Washburn.”

Isabel is leading a group of rookie debaters this year and has already seen great progress: “This year I have exclusively Rookie debaters. I honestly felt like a mother hen trying to see all of my teams before and after each round to make sure they were having fun. At the first regular practice after the tournament, I had four kids show up asking if they could practice debate each other. Seeing them excited to spend the entire practice heavily focused on debate material after months of trying to convince them they didn’t need to make a TikTok every practice was a clear representation of why I continue to coach. This activity changes kids, and to watch that is a privilege.”

Isabel sees the value of debate experience, whether the middle school students continue to compete in high school: “I always hope that the students I coach continue to debate when they move on to high school, but mostly I just hope they continue to see themselves as smart whether or not they continue to debate, and that they continue questioning the world around them.”

Continue reading “Happy Thank a Coach Week! – Celebrating Our Middle School Mentors”

A Blast from the Past: The State Policy Tournament, 1902-Style

The State Tournament, 118 Years Ago: Fight Songs, Celebrity Guests, Live Music, and More

2020 marks the 118th year of statewide Minnesota policy debate tournaments. Our students are making memories this weekend, and you’ve probably got memories of your own State experiences – but the very first days of Minnesota debate are rarely revisited. Perhaps they should be – State was an event including hundreds of audience members, VIP guests, and the interest “of all reading people”!

Continue reading “A Blast from the Past: The State Policy Tournament, 1902-Style”

Celebrating Fierce & Friendly Competition at the Citywide Championship

Thank You for Joining Us at the Citywide Championship!

All photos courtesy of Armand Langston Hayes Photography.

At the Citywide Championship, debaters from both St. Paul and Minneapolis UDL schools competed for the title of top citywide policy debate team and speaker in each division. Competition was both fierce and friendly as we celebrated 15 years of urban debate together!

Besides the competition results, community awards were also announced at the event, including Coaches of the Year, Sweepstakes Awards, and more. We also announced which high school seniors will attend the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) Championship Tournament this spring.

Find out our big winners below!

Continue reading “Celebrating Fierce & Friendly Competition at the Citywide Championship”

Karon Garen’s Sons Celebrate Her Vision With New Founder’s Fund

Godmother of the MNUDL, Karon Garen, has been honored with the name of our new endowment fund.

Karon Garen was a former debater, and she credits it with giving her the skills to succeed. The single parent of four sons, she suggested that her oldest son try debate at The Blake School. He loved it, and his brothers followed.

“I realized that debate is a remarkable partner in parenting. As teenagers, it gave my sons a place to belong – a community where they were affirmed and respected. They learned to use information with integrity, and they realized that losing is a springboard for action, not defeat,” Karon told us at the 2019 Mayors Challenge.

By 2004, debate had been virtually eliminated in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools due to budget constraints, and it was only available to well-resourced suburban and private schools. Karon was impassioned to address this disparity in access.

“This once vibrant pillar of democracy and rite of passage had disappeared from public schools,” says Karon. “This was an injustice to students and to our communities. I knew that I would be mounting a crusade to bring debate back to Twin Cities public schools.”

In the years since Karon first made the decision to pursue her vision, the MNUDL has grown from a handful of legal professionals, educators, parents, and students to serving over 1,200 students in 2019.

In celebration, Karon Garen’s four sons have begun the Karon Garen Founder’s Fund, our new endowment campaign to celebrate the MNUDL’s 15th Anniversary.

Karon helped launch the 15th Anniversary Celebration of MNUDL in June, saying, “I am in awe of how far we’ve come. Augsburg has taken a fledgling organization and turned it into a force to be reckoned with.”


Interested in contributing to the Karon Garen Founder’s Fund? Contact Amy Cram Helwich for more information at

MN First Lady Hosts 15th Anniversary Panel & Party Celebrating Urban Debate

First Lady Gwen Walz with MNUDL
First Lady Gwen Walz begins the MNUDL 15th Anniversary Panel.

“I just saw kids excited about learning,” said Nelson Inz, Minneapolis Public Schools Board Chair, after hearing about MNUDL debaters speak at our 15th Anniversary kickoff event.

First Lady of Minnesota and MNUDL Advisory Board Member, Gwen Walz, hosted the Minnesota Urban Debate League at the Governor’s Residence on the evening of October 3rd, 2019. 

The evening commemorated the 15th anniversary of the MNUDL, celebrating 15 years of urban debate in Minnesota and sparking excitement for the next 15 years of the MNUDL.

First Lady Gwen Walz moderated a panel of representatives from the MNUDL’s major programs: Manny Nuñez of South High School representing National Topic Debate; Southwest High School student Emi Gacaj representing Spanish Debate League, Augsburg University graduate Hodo Dahir representing East African Debate League; Highland Park Senior High School debater Elsa Snowbeck, representing middle school debate; and volunteer Alix Dahl, who spoke about coaching middle school debate at Hmong International Academy. 

Inz continues,“You want students to be able to evaluate all views. You need that to effectively advocate for your own side – to fully understand the other side. It’s important for youth to go through a process like debate, especially at an age when decision-making is challenging.”

Minneapolis Board of Education Clerk Kim Ellison notes: “The students brought this beautiful big, old building to life. Any time you center student voice is amazing.”

Leaders from the legal field, politics, education, and more Twin Cities changemakers participated in celebrating urban debate at the event, including Osseo school board director, Mike Ostaffe. 

“Debate is great for students,” Ostaffe noted. He attended the event with daughter Kate, a former speech & debate competitor and current undergraduate at the University of St. Thomas.  “Anything that gets you in front of adults in real-world situations, doing what you never thought you could do – that’s helpful for students. The ability to get in front of people to speak and develop cogent arguments using facts is helpful to my daughter and to any student. I hope for there to be more debate and speech in many more schools.” 

“Seeing the outcomes, both by watching the students and in black and white on paper, makes you wonder why debate isn’t in every single school,” added Erin Boltik, Director of Gifted and Talented Programs at Bloomington High School.

Thank you to everyone who helped us kick off our 15th year celebration – and especially to First Lady Gwen Walz for hosting us at her beautiful home. View our Facebook photo album of the event and tag yourself & friends!