It was a historic trip to Austin for the Mount Pleasant High School Debate team. While MPHS had made the trip to Congress state before, no one had ever advanced to the finals and no one had ever brought home a state award in that event. On this trip, they would accomplish both of those goals.

Congress is an individual contest in a large group setting. It models the legislative process of democracy, specifically, the United States Congress.

Within this mock legislative assembly competition, contestants draft legislation submitted to the tournament, and they research the docket of bills and resolutions dealing with real-world social and political policies prior to the contest to prepare their speeches. Parliamentary procedure forms structure for the discourse, and students extemporaneously respond to others’ arguments over the course of a session.

Judges evaluate contestants for their research and analysis of issues, argumentation, skill in asking and answering questions, use of parliamentary procedure and clarity and fluency of speaking. A student Presiding Officer (PO) runs the session. The PO’s job includes 4 things: recognizing speakers, giving time signals, conducting votes, and keeping order.

On day one at the University Teaching Center on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin, 51 5A competitors representing 31 school districts from across the state of Texas were split into three groups of 17, known as Chambers. After two preliminary rounds, the top six competitors from each chamber would advance to day two, known as Super Congress. At the end of day one, senior Caroline Rose and sophomore Connelly Cowan made school history, becoming the first MPHS Debate team members to advance to 5A Super Congress. Junior Ryan Sharp narrowly missed advancing by just two places.

On day two, the 18 5A finalists would compete for state medals on the floor of the Texas State Capitol. The finalists competed in large rooms used for committee meetings where actual debates on current legislation happen regularly! Rose was elected to the role of Presiding Officer and chose to preside over the afternoon session. At the end of day two, six competitors would be awarded UIL State medals and one would be awarded the Top Presiding Officer gavel.

Cowan was awarded the UIL 5A Congress State 4th place medal. This was her 1st appearance at Congress State but her 3rd appearance at UIL state meets overall. The finish earned her 3rd state medal, adding to her state championship in Informative Extemp and her bronze medal in Cross Examination Debate. She will now shift her focus to Cross Examination Debate.

“Competing at UIL State Congress was a formative experience both through the relationships I formed and the research I conducted,” said Cowan. “I feel truly honored to have received the opportunity and am incredibly grateful for the support of Coach Morris and the MPISD administration.”

Rose earned the 5A Top Presiding Officer gavel. This was her second appearance at state and her first state award, capping off a great high school Congress career. She will now turn her attention to Lincoln-Douglas debate.

“As this is my last high school UIL congressional debate, it is bitter sweet,” said Rose. “Having competed since my freshman year, I appreciate looking back at how much I have learned and grown through my experiences. While it has been a lot of hard work, I have had great support from my coach and fellow classmates. I feel that I have learned a lot of life skills that I will take with me to the next phase of my life as I transition to Texas A&M University.”

“It was an amazing week,” said MPHS Speech and Debate coach, Cody Morris. “This was the third consecutive State Speech and Debate tournament to have someone from MPHS on the podium. To not only have the 4th place medalist but to also have the Top Presiding Officer in all of 5A, as a coach, I couldn’t be prouder of the work these students have put in. They had to prepare over 60 speeches, 40 of those on their own time over Christmas break, and compete for over 18 hours. It is not easy to do what these students did and I am grateful for what they contribute to this team.”

The next major event for MPHS Speech and Debate is the Cross-Examination District meet on January 28 at the Region VIII Service Center.

Photo 1, L to R: MPHS Speech and Debate coach Cody Morris, Caroline Rose, Connelly Cowan
Photo 2, L to R: Ryan Sharp, Connelly Cowan, Caroline Rose