Debate is on at local school district

DEBATERS — Pictured are two members of the Fairmont High School debate team, from left, Eric Head and Flavia Correa, along with coach Erik Walker. The trio is pictured at Wayzata High School at the first tournament of the season.

FAIRMONT — Erik Walker moved to Fairmont in 2015 and has since held several positions at Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School.

Originally hired as the Performing Arts Center manager and an on-call substitute, Walker now teaches a college in the school class on speech, and holds the position of media tech. In addition, Walker and his fianceé, English teacher Kathleen Perry, are the co-coaches for speech.

While Walker enjoys these positions, he is most excited to hold the title of debate team coach. This is the first year that Fairmont High School has had a debate team.

Walker was on his high school’s debate team all four years, as well as during his four years at Concordia-Moorhead. He said starting a debate team is something he has wanted to do for a while.

“I had all the costs outlined and the tournaments planned,” Walker recalled.

A debate coach from a school in Eagan contacted Walker, saying he was interested in seeing “congressional debate” grow in Minnesota. With hardly any debate teams in southern Minnesota, creating one was the first step.

“I took the idea to Superintendent Joe Brown and received support from the school,” Walker said.

He received a $1,000 grant from the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association, as well as a gifted and talented grant.

There are currently 10 students, representing grades 8-12, on the debate team. It’s a number Walker says he is happy with.

“I was hoping for more like 15, but this is a good start,” he said. “It’s difficult to just decide to join debate.”

Walker explained that there is crossover from the speech team and the debate team, as the two are similar in some ways.

“Right now, all the tournaments are in the Cities,” he said. “I’m trying to contact area schools to encourage them to start their own team.”

While Walker said there are many different types of debate for high-schoolers, right now they are focusing on congressional debate.

“Congressional debate functions like a Congress debate,” said Walker, explaining that students can do research on their own, though the team meets two nights per week to practice.

Walker said some of the debates Fairmont team members have come up with this year include: giving felons the right to vote, modifying DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a U.S. immigration matter) and banning private prisons.

Walker stressed how amazing it is to see high-schoolers interested in political topics.

“Research and advocacy skills are, in my view, some of the most important skills you can have in the 21st century,” he said. “Colleges will look for the word ‘debate’ on your application.”

Since the season began in September, Walker has received positive feedback from students, and even had one win an award at a tournament.

The team will go to a qualifying tournament Nov. 8.

Debate is something Walker is passionate about, which is why he would like to see it grow in southern Minnesota.

“There’s a practical incentive to debate,” he said. “It teaches a lot of skills that coincide with being a good student.”

Walker looks forward to seeing the debate team grow. Eventually, he would like to set his sights on competitive goals.

“Debate is easy to learn and hard to master,” Walker admitted, “but I’d like to expose it to as many students as possible.”


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