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West Fargo takes first in Student Congress

Student Congress members pictured with their awards at the conclusion of the annual State event.

The 50th Annual NDHSAA State Student Congress was held at the Capitol in Bismarck on Nov. 1-2 with West Fargo taking first place team totals. Successive team placements were: Richardton-Taylor, second; Shanley, third; Fargo Davies, fourth; and Mandan, fifth.

Hundreds of high school students from around the state participated in the event, crafting and debating legislation, scored both individually and as a team. The North Dakota High School Activities Association puts on the event every year, and organizers say participants learn about the federal, state and local legislative processes and acquire skills, which will help them in the real world.

West Fargo High School senior Bailey Vertin, who has been participating since she was a sophomore, explains the competition by saying it's split into different groups that gradually go up the ladder to most difficult with placement determined by how long you have been involved. The first group is 2D going up numerically to 2C,2B,2A, 1D,1C,1B,1A with the highest and hardest 'group' the Senate.

Vertin said there are four different categories of speeches that can be presented -- foreign affairs, state and local, public welfare, and ways and means. Each one has a different topic that is up for debate, usually something current -- for example, in foreign affairs the debate was about sending military drones to Libya.

Vertin noted that the speeches that are given are usually written before-hand, but every once in a while there will be a rebuttal speech requiring a student to specifically refute another student's debate. "If you've ever seen a presidential debate, it's kind of like that except with parliamentary procedures. If you know how the real Congress acts, then it's exactly like that, except we don't actually get to pass any laws."

West Fargo High School senior Mark Staples, who has also been involved in Student Congress for three years said the student work ethic has been great and he's happy to be a part of it. "It was a very proud moment to be on the state champion team for my senior year. I was surrounded by individuals that truly worked for what they earned, and it felt great to be among them."

During his time with the group Staples has been part of two state champion teams and a two-time state champion himself and is pleased by what he's taken away from the experience. "Over the years, the participants improve exponentially," he said. "Since it's such a learning experience, everyone develops so much from their first tournament. Since my first meet, I have become far more involved with public speaking and certainly more comfortable with it."

Vertin said she has also enjoyed the experience that has served to bolster her self-confidence. "When I first started three years ago as a sophomore I was really shy and had no interest in politics. Being in Student Congress has helped me branch out and has furthered my speaking abilities. I absolutely love public speaking, and to be able to be in a group of people who love it just as much as I do is an incredible thing. So, I definitely loved being a part of it.

"Personally, being in Student Congress was never about getting a place, it was about learning and debating important and interesting topics that affect everyone. Mr. Knodel and Mr. Murphy (Aaron Knodel and Jeremy Murphy) really made something as boring as giving speeches a really unique thing. They are incredible people who are not only amazing teachers, but have helped all of us write and speak better and I'm sure if you ask any other student congress kids, they'll tell you the same thing. This year I was lucky enough to win first in House 1B and everyone on the team placed. As a school we won first, and that was pretty cool to be a part of. I'm really sad about having to leave Student Congress, but I'm happy knowing that if I ever need to give a speech I will be able to without breaking a sweat."

Individual placements in the Student Congress competition included:

Senate: first (tie), Hannah Fishbeck, Mandan and Chase Johnson, Shanley; third, Jaurdyn Gilliss, West Fargo; fourth (tie), Lauren Vetter, Shanley and Mark Staples, West Fargo; sixth, Tyler Delgado, Grand Forks Central; seventh, Jared Zent, Richardton-Taylor; eighth (tie), Luke Hauge, Fargo North and McKensy Friedt, Richardton-Taylor.

House IA: first (tie) Bethany Berntson, Valley City and Sierra Walker, West Fargo; third, Karan Saravana, Fargo Davies; fourth, Shanley Roach, Shanley; fifth (tie), Kelsie Tyrrell, Richardton-Taylor and Paige Knain-Blanchard, Shanley; seventh, Adel Said, West Fargo; eighth, Jacklyn Ausk, Central Cass.

House 1 B: first, Bailey Vertin, West Fargo; second, Siddharth Gupta, Fargo Davies; third, Mitchell Hersch, Mandan; fourth, Lucas Nelson, Grand Forks Central; fifth, Lillian Anderson, Fargo North; sixth, Alexia Hoff, Richardton-Taylor; seventh, Ashley Holland, Shanley; eighth, Abulquasem, Hossain, West Fargo.

House 1C: first, Sebastian Startz, Shanley; second, Thomas Startz, Shanley; third, Lalit Saravana, Fargo Davies; fourth, Jonathan Pacella, West Fargo; fifth (tie), Jordan Wold, Carrington and Samantha Steiner, Richardton-Taylor; seventh, Matthew Keller, Fargo Davies; eighth, Yuqi Liu, Grand Forks Red River.

House ID: first, Emily Tyrrell, Richardton-Taylor; second, Benjamin Pearson, West Fargo; third, Joshua Krank, Fargo Davies; fourth, Andi Chandler, Grand Forks Red River; fifth, Reece Burckhard, Bismarck St. Mary's; sixth, Lucas Brown, Carrington; seventh, Raelyn Leier, Shanley; eighth, Bilal Suleiman, Grand Forks Central.

House IIA: first, Hunter Kuntz, Richardton-Taylor; second, Bailey Isaak, Richardton-Taylor; third, Eric Haugen, West Fargo; fourth (tie), Keaton Erickson, Carrington and Eliana Goehring, Shanley; sixth, Conner Hennen, West Fargo; seventh, Madison Goetzfridt, Mandan; eighth, Samuel Shafer, Grand Forks Central.

House II B: first, Mariah Stein, West Fargo; second, Mikayla Aluise, Richardton-Taylor; third (tie), Kaitlyn Kidder, Fargo Davies and Andrina Brogden, West Fargo; fifth, Casey Orvedal, Fargo Davies; sixth, Mason Wede, Carrington; seventh, Jamie Bradley, Grand Forks Red River; eighth, Jessica Hernandez, Grand Forks Central.

House IIC: first, Marshall Ziegler, Richardton-Taylor; second, Alexander Bertsch, West Fargo; third, Seth Lunneborg, West Fargo; fourth, Elizabeth Bohn, Richardton-Taylor; fifth (tie), Neelay Patel, Fargo Davies and Cameron Meek, Fargo North; seventh, Eric Piatt, Shanley; eighth, Sarah Carter, Fargo South.

House IID: first, Neeraj Advani, West Fargo; second, Grace Nagbe, West Fargo; third (tie), Maverek Gonzales, Bismarck Century and Ashlen Wright, Shanley; fifth (tie), Destiny Morley, Carrington, KayCee Fry, Mandan and Breeana Dressler, Richardton-Taylor; eighth, Marquisia Bashir, Fargo South.