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The Poison Ivy League Part 23-Princeton in the Spotlight

May 3, 2011

Irritated by his judging rank and busy with theatre—he was just cast as Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors”—Kimel did not attend the Vassar or Columbia tournaments. The former was won by Sulla A and Petronius over Gracchus, Sempronia’s colorful partner. A team from Princeton won Columbia. With his victory, Sulla established himself as Harvard’s star competitor, the winner of two tournaments at that point. His hard work was beginning to pay off as he joined the roster of the circuit’s dominant speakers. At the same time, Princeton’s victory at Columbia propelled one of their teams to the front of the TOTY board. Its members now warrant an introduction.

In fact, Princeton fielded three strong teams that year. Princeton A was composed of Nerva and Trajan, both seniors. Nerva was a smart person with a speaking voice somewhat reminiscent of Germanicus’s; a capable debater, he was nonetheless not an especially memorable one. Trajan was one of the only African Americans on APDA. It’s to his credit that he stuck with the activity and eventually joined its aristocracy. Kimel never thought that he was especially gifted, however. His only strong memory of Trajan was in a round at some anonymous tournament where Trajan ran the case that Martin Luther King shouldn’t have given an interview to Playboy magazine. What could have been more unexpected or effective, Kimel argued in response, than to take white, middle-class America by surprise with its pants down? Kimel should have won that round.

With Nerva and Trajan partnered together, their fellow senior, Lucan, passed over his classmate Hadrian and began debating with a sophomore, Seneca, instead. A bushy-haired, black-eyed philosophy student, Seneca was already winning praise from older debaters for his friendliness and great intelligence. Together, he and Lucan formed Princeton C. These arrangements left Antonina, a junior, and Hadrian, the last remaining senior, to partner with each other—Princeton B.

The teams from Princeton were all very different in temperaments and behavior. Princeton A was competent but dull, and as people, its members were rather aloof. Princeton B wielded a nice mixture of analytical excellence and cocky confidence; Antonina was a gregarious treasure, and Hadrian a self-important but jovial person. As for Princeton C, Lucan was undoubtedly a strong contender, 2001’s Novice of the Year, but he was so arrogant and whiny that he detracted from his own gravitas. Seneca’s ability to deliver calm, measured speeches was an effective balance for him.

The six teammates did not get along with each other and seem to have taken their in-round rivalries very personally. Looking at matters from a third party perspective, however, it’s not obvious why there should have been so much resentment. After all, Hadrian and Antonina were best friends and natural allies. Nerva and Trajan were both seniors and had been debating together since at least the previous year. In fact, they were the team Sulla B and Kimel had defeated in the fifth round of Middlebury as sophomores. But ultimately, for whatever reason, bad blood became more putrid over time, and Princeton’s members kept jealous tabs on each other’s progress at tournaments. Princeton B was the first of the three to make a name for itself, winning Johns Hopkins, held on the same weekend as Vassar.

Columbia is traditionally one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year. As a centrally located Ivy League school, it invariably attracts the best teams from the North and South. In 2003, however, it had only two strong participants, both seniors: Furius, short-statured and long-winded, and Vipsania, Tiberius’s girlfriend. In Kimel’s opinion, it was difficult to tell who was worse-tempered. Furius was a nightmare to face in rounds, since his style seems to have usually involved belittling other teams, and Vipsania strove to emulate Livia in haughtiness. No one knew how they managed to mismanage things so grandly, but their tournament did not have enough judges to accommodate the number of teams in attendance. Soon, there were double-flighted rounds that lasted multiple hours each. The scene was said to be like a refugee camp, with debaters camped out in cavernous rooms howling at each other until the early hours of the morning. The tournament had only four in-rounds but still concluded long after midnight on Sunday. Losing participants were recruited as judges in outrounds.

The eventual winners were Princeton B, which probably made Antonina and Hadrian feel smugly vindicated. Princeton A had the advantage of a long partnership over them and Princeton C more buzz, so for best-friends to defy the odds and emerge as such winners must have been thrilling. Kimel always thought that Antonina had a bit of a crush on Hadrian, but he seemed uninterested in romance.

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