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The Poison Ivy League Part 10-Kimel’s First Victory in Outrounds

May 3, 2011

Having never debated in the South before, Kimel wasn’t sure what to expect besides a very long train ride after Jason and he left Boston with Sulla A for the Bryn Mawr tournament. Still, as a lifelong devotee of “Gone With the Wind,” he was hoping for good things, Philadelphia being the Deep South by APDA standards. All that he had to base any assumptions on were malicious gossip and the weekly rants he heard in meetings against the antics of the UMBC (pronounced “Umm-Buck”) team.

In fact, the tournament was more fun than most Kimel would attend that year or any year. This wasn’t because Bryn Mawr had a strong debate program (in fact, the school barely participated in the activity), but thanks to the easy-going characters of the people who were there to compete and judge that weekend; it’s not an empty compliment to say that in many ways, the ambiance of the tournament was healthier and more welcoming than in any competition that season in the North, dominated by six seniors with no patience for bumbling sophomores.

Sulla A was debating with his girlfriend Metella, a complicated character on the Swarthmore team. She had once dated Jason, and would go on to date Lucan from Princeton; she apparently had a thing for dark-haired nerds from over-priced schools. But Metella seemed like a nice girl to Kimel, and he supposed that the competition was a convenient chance for Sulla to spend time together with her in a social setting. Kimel played the piano for her the first night, and she was very kind to him in her compliments. He went to bed soon afterwards on a large windowsill, the only space available besides the floor. Parties were none too thrilling because he didn’t drink in those days. In fact, he never touched alcohol until he was 21.

Jason and Kimel broke to quarter-finals the next day. The Temple team adopted them in out-rounds, since they had no one to watch them compete; Sulla and Metella were busy losing quarter-finals across the hall. It was friendly of the Temple team to stick around, when they might have just gone home. Jason and Kimel were hitting the top seed (best performing team from in-rounds) at the tournament. They ran the case that the character Mersault should agree to take communion at the end of Camus’ “The Stranger.” One of the first points was that as an existentialist, Mersault values absurdity; Kimel explained that since it would be absurd for an atheist to accept communion, he should take communion. That juicy little syllogism, which sounds so off-the-wall in retrospect, was enough to make some of the best teams that debate season implode.

Harvard’s opponents didn’t know what to say. They began to curse Jason and Kimel out, and one of the speakers took off his shoe and waved it menacingly in the air. Kimel was insulted by their complaints and gave a devastating PMR putting them in their place; insults are not rational arguments, he said, to the strong applause of the Temple team. Harvard won the round and Jason and Kimel found themselves in semi-finals. The feeling of winning an out-round was one of a kind, akin only to the excitement of being on the wings of a stage before an entrance.

Now Harvard was hitting the top-ranked team from the South that year, two seniors from Swarthmore. They were ultimately number four on the TOTY board after the dominant top three pairs from the North. Their tactics this round probably don’t reflect them at their best. The first speaker called Kimel’s case that Medea shouldn’t kill her children “tight,” a case that is impossible to debate because the Government’s side is simply correct. Jason’s speech, even-handed and observant, proved that the case was debatable. The second speaker agreed with Jason so heartily that he proceeded to give eight minutes of new analysis which Kimel had to face in the PMR (the Prime Minister’s rebuttal, the final speech of the round). By the technical rules of debate, Swarthmore should have lost the round for these shenanigans, and one of the five judges (the only non-campus judge with experience on APDA, incidentally) agreed; still, Harvard didn’t control the room as well as last time, and Kimel wasn’t surprised that he lost the round. Lucan from Princeton, Metella’s future squeeze, ended up winning the tournament with Vergil from NYU, the only openly gay man on the debate circuit. These two would go on to become two of the most notable senior-competitors in the upcoming 2003-2004 season.

Whatever the case, it was exciting to make semi-finals, and even though Jason and Kimel proceeded to go their separate ways, they had as a foundation to their friendship and future partnership the memory of a great weekend. Their lack of availability to debate again together was a function of the large size of their class and a lack of consistent partnerships on the team. Still, Kimel was feeling confident going into the Middlebury tournament the following week. Sulla B and he were planning on debating together.

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