A group of students at Maple Grove Senior High was left without a leader last summer. But that did not stop the debate team from conquering their season and will now head to the top tournament.

The MGSH Debate team’s previous coach decided to move on, leaving the team without a coach.

Debate co-head coach Jason DeRusha said, “With time running out, I emailed the school and asked how I could help, and I ended up becoming the co-head coach of the team.”

Madelaine Benson, an older sibling of a Maple Grove student, applied for the coaching job. DeRusha, WCCO-TV’s morning news anchor, said they both served as co-coaches this season.

His son, Seth, is a junior on the team, along with many of Seth’s closest friends. “After a year of competing remotely because of COVID, I couldn’t stand for them to not have a season,” DeRusha said. “I knew nothing about debate (I competed in speech in high school and certainly have triggered a debate or two based on my work as a TV journalist), but I knew I could be there and show up for the kids.”

Debate is a competitive event that teaches young people confidence, public speaking, research and most importantly forces them to learn about two opposing sides of an issue. DeRusha said there are different areas of debate.

Lincoln Douglas debate deals with issues from a moral standpoint. “This year they debated whether in a just society the right to strike should be unlimited,” he said.

Public Forum is a team event with two students debating issues like whether cryptocurrency should be regulated. And Congressional Debate is a mock congress where students look at a docket of proposed legislation, debate each bill and then vote.

This year’s team started with a core group of nine returning members. But the season ended with a total of 18 debaters. “[I’m] so proud of our leaders who recruited new members building a great foundation for the future,” DeRusha said.


There are quite a few highlights from the MGSH team’s season. DeRusha said the team won the overall sweepstakes, placing first as a team in the Northern Lights District Tournament. “That’s a National Qualifying tournament, so seeing such success considering the team started the school year without a coach was remarkable,” he said.

In Congress - Senate, Shae Ramberg took third place and is the first runner-up for Nationals. Ramberg also took first place in speaker points, DeRusha said.

“Our novice students — ninth and 10th graders — really showed up this season, and we saw tremendous growth in Congressional Debate,” he said. “In the national qualifying tournament in the House, Lindsey Long took fourth place, Amelia Cook took sixth.”

In Public Forum (a two-person debate team), he said there was “great success” with three teams putting themselves in a position to go to Nationals. Laila Ali and Mira Cook, Seth DeRusha and Timur Usenov, and Amareah Rolfzen and Baanee Singh all advanced to the elimination round. “A coin flip gave DeRusha and Usenov the win over Rolfzen and Singh,” he said. This made Ali and Cook and DeRusha and Usenov National Qualifiers. But as Ali and Cook do not plan to attend Nationals, Rolfzen and Singh have the opportunity to attend and are also National Qualifiers, DeRusha said.

In Lincoln Douglas, Andrew Ladhani is a National Qualifier. DeRusha said Ladhani took the second finalist spot in the district tournament.

“Our first tournament was Oct. 2 and our last tournament was Dec. 7-9,” DeRusha said. “Now, we prepare for nationals this summer in Louisville, Kentucky.”

He added that the speech season is now underway, with himself and Benson as the coaches for the MGSH speech team. “Our first tournament will be Jan. 15,” he said. “Speech has an interp side, which is more acting, and a public address side, which is more about giving a speech.”

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