That's debatable: Cooper seniors show off their sparring skills

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2007 - 9:45 PM

Two Robbinsdale Cooper debate stars are showcased on MPR.

Legal pads in hand, Dan Willey and Emilia Spalding emerged to expectant applause in the UBS Forum studio at Minnesota Public Radio.

They were making their mass media debut at a taping of the new MPR issue/variety show, "In the Loop," taking opposite stands on the theme: "Democracy is the best way for groups of people to make decisions."

Not a bad gig for members of a high school debate team.

The two were using the Lincoln-Douglas debate format, named for the famous political exchanges that helped launch Abraham Lincoln to national fame almost 150 years ago. It was a format, show host Jeff Horwich said, "that we will thoroughly bastardize here tonight."

You could see and hear them relax into their roles -- Willey on the affirmative, Spalding on the negative -- trading factoids, -isms and barbs, often punctuated by musical "stingers" from the band.

Willey, 18, of Crystal, won last year's state Lincoln-Douglas debate tournament.

At the national competition in Wichita, Kan., Willey placed 13th. Spalding, 17, of Minneapolis, took ninth in the National Student Congress category.

But their laurels didn't elevate them to public radio; their attitude did. "In the Loop" associate producer Sanden Totten liked the way Willey and Spalding clicked.

"I cared about if they seemed like they'd be smart about the topic and have fun with it," he said. And they did. Totten lauded the pair's ability to not only hammer the topic but crack jokes. "They did awesome, " he said.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409


    You can decide who won Willey and Spalding's democracy debate. "In the Loop" will be broadcast at 6 p.m. Sunday and 9 p.m. Wednesday on KNOW - 91.1 FM and on MPR's news and information stations around the state. It also can be downloaded or streamed online at

    Robbinsdale Cooper High School will host a debate tournament on Nov. 17. The public is welcome. Information:

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