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The Poison Ivy League Part 17-Nationals, 2003

May 3, 2011

Nationals broke to quarter-finals that year, as it had the year before. To Harvard’s satisfaction, two of their teams qualified for out-rounds: Scipio and Pallas, and, more surprisingly, Fabius and Jason. The former were hitting Yale A, and the latter MIT A, so the cards seemed stacked against them. Kimel decided to watch Jason’s round.

Sulla A and B looked very dejected as they walked into the assembly-room. They’d just missed the break by losing to the top team from the University of Virginia, two young women they knew little about. Sulla A was furious at the outcome. The topic of the round was whether a small church that condemns gambling should accept a large donation from a member who had won the money in a lottery. The Sullas pointed out that Jesus Himself consorted with prostitutes and tax-collectors, hating the sin but loving the sinner; if Kimel were in the round, he would have brought up the example of the prodigal son, which shows that the Church should welcome the efforts of those who have strayed. At any rate, Kimel wasn’t there, so he couldn’t say who deserved to win. Perhaps the judges were sympathetic to the efforts of seniors over a pair of upstart sophomores.

Everyone expected MIT A to make short work of Fabius and Jason. The styles of the speakers left a strong impression on Kimel. Marcus performed as he usually did, delivering insights and bluster in equal part. But Fabius, at his most competitive and alert, matched him point for point. Then, when he saw the judges agreeing with his analysis, he gained renewed stores of confidence and began to speak with a greater and more powerful eloquence. On the heels of this performance, Gallus had decided trouble with his speech. He was apprehensive about the possibility that the round could be his last, and knew that Fabius had delivered more dangerous parries to Marcus’s attack than he might have anticipated. The winner of that year’s SOTY (Speaker of the Year) award, Gallus was nevertheless the most variable of his classmates in terms of his oratory, sometimes giving speeches so polished that they sounded memorized, and at other times descending into confusion, as he did in this round. Unfortunately for Gallus, like Fabius, Jason was at his most fluent and confident. There seemed to be little that Marcus could do at the end of the round in his rebuttal. As everyone waited for the results, one thought was on the minds of all. Would the reputation of MIT A be enough to save them? In the event, it wasn’t. Fabius and Jason progressed to semi-finals, ending their opponents’ careers.

Fabius and Jason were against Yale B next. Triumphant over Pallas and Scipio, Livia and Tiberius were facing the University of Virginia in the other semi-final round. Most people expected an all-Yale finals. Indeed, like the avenging angels of the fallen MIT, Yale B trounced Fabius and Jason. Atticus was perfectly capable, as he always was, but Germanicus was just devastating in his control of the rapt attention of the room. The announcement that Yale B would be advancing to finals did not come as a surprise. The announcement that they would be facing the University of Virginia, however, did.

Against the case “should parents tell their young-teenager that they smoked pot in college?,” Yale A launched their last assault. Kimel watched the round more than once on videotape and came to appreciate the tactics of Virginia. Knowing they could not beat Yale on a case about economics, politics, or the law, and not favoring these sorts of topics anyway, they chose a to debate an open-ended issue with fairly intuitive arguments on both sides. Their friendliness and sincerity in the round as they spoke about the right way to bring up children showed itself to stronger advantage than Yale A’s cold artistry. They seemed to be the cream of the crop that year among Southern debaters, and they deserve credit for running more than open-ended cases. Kimel considered their round with Tiberius and Livia a virtual draw, but could understand why Yale lost, 2003’s Team of the Year.

In finals, the girls from Virginia ran the case, Opp choice, whether a typical college student should give money to a street beggar. Germanicus was at his most glorious in the round, saying, among other things, that the money could be donated to third-world charities where you could be sure it was being used for good rather than to enslave people to drugs. He almost received a standing ovation after this speech. The judges’ vote might have been 7 to 6, but the mood of the room was clear—114 to 46 in favor of Yale.

So, Germanicus and Atticus were the 2003 National Champions, and Livia and Tiberius the Team of the Year. The Fates were even kind to MIT A, since they’d also won a title that year—that of North American Champions in the great annual tournament at which Canadian teams compete against Americans. Harvard had no speakers in the top ten SOTY, nor any teams in the top ten TOTY. Out of everyone, Kimel was the school’s highest speaking participant at Nationals, coming in twelfth. Scott and he won four out of six in-rounds, and would have just missed the break had the tournament included an octo-final round, as Nationals usually does.

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