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The Poison Ivy League Part 14-As Good as a Victory

May 3, 2011

By the time of the Wellesley tournament, opportunities to qualify for Nationals were looking increasingly slim. The dominance of Yale and MIT was so complete that not a single Northern sophomore, however talented, had managed to make it to a final round with the exception of Tertius, whom Germanicus had led to victory at Amherst over Fabius and Pallas. Now, the debate year was all but over.

At the end of February, Yale A’s victory at Princeton and Yale B’s failure to even break at that tournament virtually assured Livia and Tiberius the position of Team of the Year, with Gallus and Marcus in a distant third behind them. As is probably clear by this time, in the TOTY race, two-person teams are awarded points based on victories in out-rounds at various tournaments, with the most points coming from winning large competitions. The title of TOTY was, in Kimel’s opinion, the strongest indicator of excellence because it rewarded consistent performance over several different contests. Kimel remembered thinking even in 2003 that if any prize were worth winning on the circuit, it was that one. It seemed even better than a victory at a National Championship which, while exciting, was based on all the variability inherent in an individual tournament: judges’ preferences, case selection, etc.

Since Kimel thought that Yale A was the team that was most intimidating to hit that year, he considered that they deserved the award. That he did so non-grudgingly was a credit to his good nature. They had never been especially nice to him, though he looked up to them. In fact, they called him Sulla to the bitter end, even during their out-round at Brown. Kimel felt bad to see Germanicus and Atticus looking dejected when they learned that they were kept out of the break at Princeton. He approached them and congratulated them on a first-rate year, regardless of the outcome of the TOTY race. Now they pinned all of their hopes on Nationals. Some would say it’s to Germanicus’s credit that after Princeton, he insisted the TOTY race was over despite the upcoming tournaments of a handful of small schools that might have helped to tip the scales in his favor again. He would not let a small competition run by non-entities on APDA, he said, decide the outcome of the title. This gesture seems broad-minded but was, some might say, insulting to the programs of certain universities and obviously done in contrast to Tiberius and Livia’s alleged attempt to commandeer the Fairfield tournament the previous year in pursuit of the title. The ending of this TOTY race is somewhat ironic considering what happened in 2004-2005, but that comes at the end of the story. Whatever the case, Kimel’s class breathed a collective sigh of relief that they could avoid hitting Yale A and B at upcoming competitions.

At Wellesley, Scott and Kimel performed surprisingly well together as Harvard Disney Channel (everyone went by the name of a different television station). They moved efficiently from round to round. Kimel always tended to do well with low-key speakers who spoke more slowly than he did and could support his barrage of points with illustrative details. None of their in-rounds were especially noteworthy. They ran the case that lotteries should be banned and enjoyed a round about “The Simpsons,” doing well armed with their specific knowledge about the sitcom. Having won their first four debates, they were pitted against Jason and Horatius in the final round, who were also “all the way up.” Jason ran a case against them about the inheritance tax and beat them in a close round. The judge warned everyone that she would take off points for every second anyone spoke over-time. What a mean person.

There was a Harvard dino named Gaius who had helped to manage and organize the Wellesley tournament for two years running. For some reason which few people understood, he decided to break directly to semi-finals rather than quarter-finals and announced that thanks to the team’s lucky star, four Harvard teams would be hitting each other. Harvard Disney Channel was among them.

This announcement was met with groans and curses. Messalina, Fabius’s indomitable girlfriend, propelled herself to the front of the room and faced the crowd, even instinctively putting her hand on her head for a moment as if she were rising on a formal point of order in a round. Did he mean to tell her, she shrieked, that he, a Harvard dino, was breaking four Harvard teams to semi-finals, when this might be her teammate Melissa’s only chance to break? This was quite the assertion; there was no reason to think that Melissa couldn’t have other chances in the future. In fairness to Messalina, perhaps she meant “this year.” Still, the anecdote quickly became popular on the Harvard team, and dear Melissa soon became an inadvertent object of merriment. Sulla B even suggested that she be invited to a “breaking party” where the guests would smash plates around her but give her ones made of indestructible plastic.

Messalina might have been melodramatic in her accusations, but Gaius earned the enmity of virtually every school that attended the tournament besides Harvard. He went on to become the most scratched judge at Nationals, eliminated by almost every Southern team, who had a grudge against him for their own reasons—apparently, a Catholic university planned to hold a tournament mocking Christianity, and he’d made this known to the administration and had the team formally admonished. He was so insulted that he left the circuit entirely and the Wellesley tournament became a thing of the past. What there was of a team simply collapsed without him.

Despite the controversy, Kimel was thrilled that Scott and he had a chance to qualify for Nationals. After all, Kimel had lost so many quarter-final rounds that year. He knew that this was probably his last and best chance to break to finals. He and Scott were pitted against Jason and Horatius again. This time, they were on Government. They ran the case, written on the spot, that in Israel, students should be required to learn Arabic in school rather than English. This was an excellent case. As a gentleman, Kimel even gave the other side some room to maneuver by saying English should be taken as an elective rather than required alongside Arabic. The round gave Kimel scope to discuss interesting issues about language-education that most debaters were unlikely to have thought much about. He especially emphasized the symbolic importance of requiring Arabic in terms of the intentions of Israel to get along with its neighbors. To make the point even stronger, he explained that even the most ardent Israeli nationalists should support his proposal, since martial-intelligence could be better conducted if the army were widely literate in Arabic. As it stands, Arabic is considered less prestigious a class than French, and the best students almost invariably choose the Romance language as an elective. Finally, Kimel talked about the sense of empathy that comes from reading the literature and speaking the words of another culture.

Scott and Kimel won the round and advanced to finals. Everyone broke out in applause, and Cynthia, the Vice President and Novice Director, cheered loudest of all. The memory was so wonderful that Kimel forever retired the case. Perhaps he didn’t want it to be sullied by a loss in a messy round, as his case about Julius Caesar was. But looking back, this was a misguided decision, since the case might have served him well for two more years.

Kimel was thrilled to have qualified for Nationals—the first member of his class to do so virtually the week before elections, and with a novice for a partner. In the final round, he ran the comic case that the Seven Dwarfs should have rejected Snow White when she asked to live with them. It was a very funny round in which Kimel spent large portions of his speech imitating the Wicked Witch. He lost by a single vote to Scipio and Trimalchio, the Treasurer, who had also just qualified for Nationals for the first time. The team was immensely happy for everyone, and Scott and Kimel eventually became best friends.

For the record, Cyrus won top speaker at the tournament. Kimel’s life might have turned out very differently if he had been his partner that weekend instead of Scott. The randomness of existence is chilling.

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