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Debaters to face off at 21st Annual Think-Off

Last year's Think-Off debate with winner, Adam Bright on left.

It’s a question that provokes not just some food for thought, but an entire feast – “Which is more ethical: Sticking to principle or being willing to compromise?”

In today’s often polarized political and cultural climate, it’s a question that is as timely as it is controversial.

That’s why it was chosen to be the question debated at this year’s Great American Think-Off.

Jamie Robertson, Executive Director of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, which puts on the Think-Off, said it’s “an especially relevant question to Americans this year.”

It’s a question that should make people think hard and start talking about some tough issues, he added – which is the ultimate goal of the Think-Off event.

Now in its 21st year, the nationally-known Think-Off has a long history of bringing ‘armchair philosophers’ from all over the country together to debate two possible sides of a juicy issue.

People interested in participating in the debate submit essays outlining their point of view on the issue, and from those, a selection group picks four finalists – two to debate each side.

Interestingly, this year, the two philosophers chosen to debate for the side of compromise are both from northern states, while the two who will be debating on behalf of principle are from the south. Robertson said this was purely “the luck of the draw,” as finalists are chosen anonymously from the pool of submitted essays. Their identities are not revealed until after their essays have been chosen.

Those four finalists are:

-Caroline Zarlengo Sposto, of Memphis, Tenn., a published writer who has recently retired from a long career in communications.

-Dave Eckel, a computer and small business management consultant who resides in Clayton, N.C. He is a repeat finalist in the Think-Off, and won the debate in 2010.

-Paul Terry, of Minnesota, a CEO in the health industry and former Fulbright Scholar.

-David Lapakko, a published textbook author and associate professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

They will debate in front of a live audience at the James Mann Center for the Performing Arts at New York Mills School this Saturday, June 8 at 7 p.m.

Public television host John Forde will be this year’s moderator, and immediately following the debate, audience members will be able to pose their own questions and ideas to the four finalists.

The night before the Think-Off, the cultural center will host a kick-off concert by American troubadour Larry Long, who has been compared to Woody Guthrie. He will play with guitarist Cory Wong, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday. 

For more information, or for advance tickets to the Think-Off and/or the kick-off concert, call 218-385-3339 or visit

The Think-Off debate will be aired live on 1250AM KBRF Lakes Radio, and will also be streamed online at

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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