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The Poison Ivy League Part 36-Nationals, 2004

May 3, 2011

Nationals were held at Swarthmore College over Easter, to the consternation of many participants. Kimel and Petronius, not bothered by religious scruples, were eager to compete together. Petronius was in fact cast as Mitch in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” directed by Kimel and to be performed at the end of the month. They were both grateful to have escaped the watchful eye of the play’s producer, a tyrannous drill-sergeant whose ruthless efficiency Kimel would come to appreciate in future years. While Kimel and Petronius were away debating over the holiday, she issued an Email to the entire cast informing them of an “emergency rehearsal,” which turned out to be a set-construction project. She angered many a devout actor on that occasion, but Kimel couldn’t help but chuckle at her Machiavellian ways, particularly since he was spared some manual labor by these efforts.

Petronius’s jolliness complemented Kimel’s high-spirits seamlessly during rounds. On the first or second evening, they were paired against a team from Johns Hopkins composed of two sophomores—Lepidus and Antony. The pair were rumored to be impressive foils to Crassus and Pompey, and they’d won several tournaments besides. But Kimel had never seen them compete until that night. He decided to run the case against them that the HBO television series “Sex and the City” should have concluded with at least one of the four regular cast-members as a single woman. Kimel had dreamed up this case with Fabius once upon a time and decided that then would be as good a time as any to christen it.

Lepidus and Antony were indeed remarkable. Lepidus delivered his speeches in a dignified, regal baritone, peppering his points with allusions to philosophy. The dimunitive Antony, who seemed so fragile and child-like at first glance, spoke with a voice at odds with his eyes—it was an adult voice, undercut by an almost luminescent intensity. Every angle of the case was explored, from broad conversation about individuals using television in search of role models to specific pragmatic details concerning opportunities for theatrical sequels. By treating the case with great respect rather than ridiculing the subject matter, as some might have done, Johns Hopkins paved the way for one of Kimel’s most memorable, insightful rounds. His ultimate victory perhaps colored his subsequent interpretation.

Only two teams from Harvard broke to outrounds: Scipio and Fabius, and Kimel and Petronius. All four were thrilled; Kimel couldn’t help but feel especially happy because he’d managed to outperform his rivals in a new partnership, while the rest of them had the benefit of long practice as teams. The morning after the traditional APDA banquet, Harvard A was to be hitting Princeton C; Princeton B, the Team of the Year, just failed to make it to outrounds. Kimel and Petronius were pitted against a team from Chicago.

Morning came, time for the octo-final round. The groggy debaters assembled. Kimel decided to run his case, Opp choice, whether the Jews at Masada ought to have committed mass suicide when faced with the prospect of massacre by the Romans. What followed was a close round; Kimel hoped that the point that suicide was viewed as a heroic action in certain circumstances in antiquity might win him the day, to say nothing of the fact that death at the hands of their fathers and husbands would spare women and children the horrors of a pagan siege. Sadly, two out of three judges disagreed with these truths, ending Kimel’s tournament. He could console himself with a tenth place speaker award, the best performance by a competitor from Harvard at Nationals the second year running. In the meantime, Scipio and Fabius triumphed over Lucan and Seneca, with Lucan literally choking in the middle of his speech, his voice breaking into a series of helpless hiccoughs.

Kimel, wishing he’d progressed further, watched Scipio and Fabius’s quarter-final round against Vergil and his best friend Maria; a partnership with Iulia might have been more lethal. Harvard ran the case that vote-selling should be legal in an ideal liberal democracy. Here, Scipio was at his finest—his every word seemed confident and wise. If individuals could vote for candidates because they expected tax breaks, he insisted, why couldn’t they sell their vote for specific amounts of money? Kimel noticed that Livia of Yale A fame, the most commanding of the dino judges, didn’t seem persuaded by Harvard by the end of the speeches, but enough judges voted in Scipio and Fabius’s favor to propel them to semi-finals. They would have then competed against Messalina, but she lost in quarter-finals to the same team that Kimel did before her. The pair from Chicago were finally taken down by Scipio and Fabius in semi-finals.

Harvard A ultimately won the tournament, hitting Cato from Cornell in finals. Cato was a first-rate debater, but he and his partner, an irreverent maverick and something of an irregular participant, never quite had the sympathies of the crowd on their side. They had brought down Columbia A in semi-finals, ending Vipsania’s tournament. Although not on especially friendly terms with her, Kimel was sorry for her loss, since she was a senior and to succumb to her juniors was an indignity. In finals, Cato ran the case that indefinite prison sentences should be banned, falling deservedly to Harvard. One of the judges mentioned that he voted for Harvard because they were the better dressed team, and seemed to take the tournament more seriously than did Cornell.

In this way, Scipio and Fabius, who had barely made the top ten TOTY and were forced to take a back seat to Sulla A and B in that race, ended their year in fine style. The fact that every car from Harvard got lost on their way home and the crew only arrived back in Cambridge at dawn itself did little to blunt anyone’s optimism.

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