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Student Congress takes third title in four years

The state champion West Fargo student congress is made up of students with little or no competitive experience before this year. Submitted photo

The West Fargo Student Congress team went to the State Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 7, and came back on Friday with its second consecutive state championship, and its third in the past four years.

“They performed really well, especially in light of the fact that I had 22 seniors on the team last year so I only had a handful of students coming back who had ever been to a single tournament ever,” team coach Aaron Knodel said. “Most of them didn’t have the experience of being in student congress, and even fewer had the experience of debating at the state tournament in the State Capitol building, which is a different experience.”

“This year I wasn’t expecting anything exceptional considering almost everybody on the team was new to student congress,” senior Clarissa Brown said “I was extremely proud of how the underclassmen stepped up to the challenge. I think we only set ourselves up for greatness in years to come.”

The team of 18 students took part student-led, mock parliamentary debate in seven different groups, one senate and six houses of representatives. Resolutions on debatable and often controversial topics – like the United States withdrawing from the United Nations and stricter gun laws, for example – were drafted by students and then debated amongst the groups. Students were judged by how well they debate each topic.

The team also had four individual state champions: Seniors Nathan Arel and Austen Tyryfter, and sophomores Logan Volk and Lisa Tellinghuisen. Brown and junior Toby Kindern were also elected presiding officers in their respective houses.

“My experience as a presiding officer, honestly, was very scary at first,” Brown said. “I was shaking at first because of excitement and nervousness. Being able to preside over House III at the state tournament was very special and an incredible honor. I really enjoyed it. I have memories that are going to last me a lifetime.”

Knodel credits his older students for the team’s success, as coaching for several topics can be difficult.

“The kids at the top were great leaders,” Knodel said. “At practice, it is difficult to manage when 28 different topics are being debated. Initially, we put all the topics on the wall and broke down how each one would be debated and then we went into the research process.”

Knodel, who has been coaching student congress in West Fargo since 2004, has seen plenty of students go through the program and has heard several first-hand accounts of the advantages it gives students at the next level.

“The writing, research and impromptu speaking skills they have coming out of here really prepares them for life in college,” Knodel said. “I have students come back all the time and tell me they can write a research paper very quickly and they can formulate arguments very quickly. You also have highly academic students who may not have the same type of competitive experience in the classroom. In this, you go and compete against the most academic students in North Dakota.”