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Rosemount High School sends debaters to national tournament

Ryan Kirkley and Matt Stefanko qualified last weekend for the National Forensics League national tournament.

A shuffled lineup couldn't keep Rosemount High School's debate team from qualifying a team for the National Forensics League national tournament.

The team of Matt Stefanko and Ryan Kirkley finished in a tie for second at last weekend's NFL qualifying tournament to earn a trip to the national competition in June.

Stefanko has had a lot of success this season debating with usual partner Lisa Beard, and Kirkley has done well with Wesley Just. But Beard learned a week ago that she was a finalist in a scholarship competition at the University of St. Thomas. She had to take a test Saturday for that process, so the rest of the team had to adjust.

That's not always easy for debaters used to working with a partner. Kirkley had to move to a different position in the speaking order, and coach Cort Sylvester said that meant giving up some control over how the argument is shaped.

"It's somewhat difficult, but they do share arguments and evidence," Sylvester said Monday. "Both Ryan and Matt were equally familiar with what's going on in the topic. They actually debated together at the beginning of last season, so they were used to debating together."

This is Kirkley's second trip to NFL nationals. He qualified in student congress as a sophomore.

Rosemount wasn't alone in its lineup shuffling. The NFL national tournament conflicts with graduation at Edina High School, so seniors on that team didn't compete. One member of Wayzata's top team plans to be on a trip to India at the time of the national tournament, so that team had to make some adjustments as well.

Sylvester was excited about the team's performance over the weekend. In addition to Stefanko and Kirkley, Lincoln-Douglas debater Devin Awe advanced to the second day of competition.

"It was very satisfying," Sylvester said. "It was the first time we've had anybody debating on the second day of the section qualifier in five years, let alone had somebody qualify.

"I think that Matt and Lisa would do just fine at nationals, but we're pretty excited about Matt and Ryan's chances."

The NFL news will force Rosemount debaters to reevaluate their schedule for the rest of the year. Stefanko and Beard will team up again for a mid-February tournament at the University of California-Berkeley in an attempt to earn the second of two bids they need for the national Tournament of Champions. Sylvester said the team will also likely send some debaters to the National Catholic Forensic League Grand Nationals, though Stefanko won't attend that competition because he will be competing in a national Quiz Bowl tournament.