Elliot Nelson and Abigail Lindgren

Oskaloosa High School seniors Elliot Nelson (left) and Abigail Lindgren are gearing up for a trip to the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Mesa, Arizona this June.

OSKALOOSA — Two Oskaloosa High School students have qualified for a prestigious debate competition to cap off their senior year — but they’ll need the community’s help to get there.

Elliot Nelson and Abigail Lindgren are two students with a passion for congressional style debate. Both finishing their senior year at OHS, Nelson and Lindgren have qualified as two of eight high school debate competitors from across Iowa who will compete at the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Mesa, Arizona during the week of June 11.

Nelson will be competing in the “senate” division, while Lindgren will be competing in the “house.” The days will be intense, with debate over the competition’s various “bills” lasting as long as seven or eight hours a day.

The two first joined the OHS debate team during their sophomore year, competing as partners in the public forum category. After deciding that public forum style debate wasn’t a good fit for them, Nelson switched to congressional debate, while Lindgren took a hiatus from the team before eventually rejoining him in the new category.

“Congressional style … is more laid-back and gives you the chance to offer your debating expertise where necessary, or where you want to,” Nelson says. “You can filter in the speeches where you want to, and if you have a really good speech planned, you can deliver it. If you don’t have such a good speech, you don’t have to give it.”

There is a cost though. The abundance and choice of speaking opportunities comes as a result of the sheer quantity of “bills” that the student congress will debate. Nelson and Lindgren will be preparing material to debate as many as 50 bills during their time in Mesa.

“We have to prepare 50 speeches for all these bills, which is going to be a lot, but we can divide and conquer, especially because he is in the senate and I’m in the house. We’ll be debating the exact same things,” Lindgren says.

Some of the debate’s topics will cover a bill for universal mental health care and legislation concerning foreign policy with countries including Kenya and Yemen.

The competition is tournament style, but even if Nelson and Lindgren don’t make the final cut, they’ll still have plenty to keep them busy throughout the week. Those not chosen for the finals participate in “supplemental” categories like poetry or prose, in which they do a combination of reading works already published by others and presenting work of their own.

Although the tournament won’t take place until June, Nelson and Lindgren are already hard at work fundraising for the cost of travel, lodging and more for their trip southwest.

“We have to finance an entire week down there,” Nelson says. “We have to finance transportation, food, everything else that goes into a trip like that.”

The two students have set up a GoFundMe and have been busily reaching out to community organizations as they work to reach their goal of $6,500.

“We have about three weeks to write 50 bills, fundraise, get poetry … make our way to Arizona. So we have a limited window of time to fundraise, but that’s okay,” Lindgren says. “The community, so far, has been very supportive … I personally am very grateful for all the opportunities that have been given to both of us. It’s been fantastic.”

Those opportunities include learning life-long lessons as members of the OHS debate team, led by OHS language arts teacher Jessica Weinreich. As Nelson and Lindgren prepare to graduate, they hope that many more students will follow in their footsteps as members of the team.

“My biggest piece of advice is don’t have regrets, especially in high school,” Nelson says. “Debate is a chance to hone the natural skills of life. The capability to speak eloquently, to articulate your beliefs, to rationalize your arguments. All these skills are invaluable in whatever future you decide to pursue, so I would encourage every single student coming into high school to at least give speech and debate a chance.”

Lindgren’s advice echoes her teammate’s.

“It builds your life skills,” she says. “I think it also gets you out of your comfort zone, because you have to stand in front of a bunch of people and defend your arguments and answer questions, which someday, you’re probably going to have to do … So I think debate is a really fantastic program, and Miss Weinreich will provide all the opportunities that students who want to do this will do. You just have to go for it.”

Nelson and Lindgren will be presenting a speech showcase at the George Daily Auditorium at 7 p.m. Monday, May 22. The showcase is a free-will donation, with options to participate for $5 and to add three ideas for improvs for $1. All proceeds from the showcase will go to the debate team.

For more information, visit Nelson and Lindgren’s GoFundMe page, “Help OHS Debaters Get to National Tournament,” at gofundme.com.

Channing Rucks can be reached at crucks@oskyherald.com.

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