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The Poison Ivy League Part 39-Previewing the 2004-2005 Debate Season

May 3, 2011

If 2003-2004 can charitably be said to have represented a rebuilding period for the circuit after a long period of vassalage under three teams from Yale and MIT, 2004-2005 was the beginning of what can only be described as a golden age in the history of APDA. A sequence of major, longstanding records was broken several times over. All-time highs were set for the number of teams to qualify for Nationals from a single school, in TOTY and NOTY race totals, in final-round appearances, and in titles accumulated by specific individuals. Simultaneously, beginning with pioneering efforts by the Yale debate team in particular under the direction of Livia, teams from APDA began to participate in and even dominate the yearly World Championship. As if this weren’t enough, the efforts of Piso, Crassus, Pompey, Antony, Lepidus, and Sappho set new standards for debate in the South and, by competing with the best of the North and matching the cream of the crop in brutal precision and energy, they single-handedly began to bridge the gap between the two sections of the country that had been so pronounced for so many years. Indeed, the records of Brian Fletcher from Yale, who had been in 24 final rounds, would soon be shattered by a Southerner.

The 2004-2005 debate season, the beginning of this era, was Kimel’s final season on APDA. Many future record-breakers were still only novices or sophomores, but they had to emulate a senior class well-practiced in oratory against dangerous competitors of all kinds, including each other: Metella and Sappho, Cato and any of his counterparts from Cornell, Tertius and Hirtius, Antonina, Vespasian, Piso, and a whole army of people from Harvard. The circuit was thus dominated by a diversity of first rate teams, with no individuals holding a unique monopoly on power. From North to South, the pool of talent ran deeper than ever before in recent memory. This, perhaps, can help to explain why the activity was suddenly enlivened after its brief dormancy the previous year.

This happy period coincided with Yale and Harvard’s strongest showings ever on APDA. Yale’s dominance, however, would be left to the future. 2004-2005 was Harvard’s season. Not surprisingly, great rivalries became even greater, and feelings of warmth and antagonism vied with each other in dominance. Scott’s easy-going nature as President and the weekly parties that he helped to organize brought a sense of social cohesion and sympathy to the frying pan. Over time, certain friendships became extremely strong. Only late in the year did the weight of competition begin to bear down on them, and cracks gradually appeared about the edges.

Kimel had made the decision over the summer to sacrifice theatre to debate. He knew that success at individual tournaments was variable, and that to be truly dominant, long-term commitment was in order. If he hoped for a title, he would need to attend a variety of different contests, and with the same partner. “A Streetcar Named Desire” had been a satisfactory high for him; let his dramatic career end at that, he thought. He still very much wanted Jason for a TOTY run, but superficially, he seemed indifferent to the idea. If he could have accumulated TOTY points with Vespasian from MIT, Kimel thought, he likely would have debated with him. Momentarily deterred, Kimel considered the possibility of making overtures to Petronius, but he was unsure if he too were interested in a long term match. Besides, Josephus had been batting his eyes at him lately, hedging his bets.

Armed with Fabius’s encouragement, who had taken Jason to semi-finals of Nationals and Kimel to semi-finals of the North American Championship, Kimel ultimately approached Jason directly and proposed their partnership. He reminded him of the fun they’d had together at Bryn Mawr and Brown in the past, and how successful they’d been at those contests. Jason was a Nationals semi-finalist and tenth place SOTY, one of the best showings from Harvard in recent memory. Kimel had been a semi-finalist at Northams and broken at Nationals, finishing in the top ten speakers. What could be a better union of minds and voices? Besides, the Sullas had already finished second at a tournament, so there wasn’t a moment to lose.

Finally, after much encouragement, Jason agreed to give it a shot at the Smith tournament. Kimel realized that if he hoped to cement this alliance, they needed a joint success to their name, and quickly.

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