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The Poison Ivy League Part 4-A Debacle at Fairfield

May 3, 2011

Kimel’s mother was once a student at Fairfield, and he thought that the tournament would be an interesting opportunity to see her school and perhaps visit his home on the outskirts of New Haven. As a freshman and a novice, he was completely unaware of the gossip already circulating about the competition before it even began.

The TOTY (Team of the Year) race that season was down to the wire between a pair from Princeton, whom the vast majority of the South supported, and Yale A: Livia and Tiberius. In those days, large schools had vassal colleges whose tournaments they helped to run—for example, Harvard would traditionally help along the Wellesley team’s tournament, and Yale would assist Fairfield. Because Tiberius was the dominant political personality on his team, gossip predictably affirmed that he was setting out to fix the tournament for himself. To Kimel, however, this assertion always seemed tendentious. The judging at the tournament was among the worst Kimel had ever seen, and short of forcing campus-nobodies to vote for his victory again and again, it would have been difficult for even Tiberius to do anything to amount to much of a difference over the outcome of his rounds. Whatever the case, all of the judging at Fairfield was atrocious, conducted by unenthusiastic strangers with no knowledge of APDA or its style. The best answer to the gossip is that the ultimate result of the tournament proves pretty obviously that the outcome was out of Yale’s hands.

There were equally colorful rumors floating around the North that in the final round of Fairfield’s rival tournament, one side deliberately lost to the other, ensuring the TOTY title for Princeton. Princeton had evidently performed so strongly that year that many people felt as if they were the rightful holders of the title, especially since both Livia and Tiberius had another year on the horizon to win honors and had stepped on many toes in the meantime besides. They say that when the results of the final round were announced, a speaker sarcastically addressed the audience with the request “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” The room burst out laughing and did so, mocking the fact that Tiberius was disabled and had neither hands nor feet. In retrospect, 2001-2002 represented one of the worst seasons ever in terms of North-South relations. Kimel went on to hear rumors surrounding this weekend for many years later, so engrained did the myth of what happened become in the collective imagination of the circuit.

Of course, poor Porus and Kimel were completely unaware of the high stakes that weekend when, mirabile dictu, they were pitted against Yale A for the first round. Kimel suggested running his case about Brutus and Julius Caesar again – the one that had won him the unprecedented score of 29 a few weeks earlier. Disaster ensued; one of the most unpleasant rounds Kimel ever beheld took place. First, Tiberius delivered his LOC, the first speech of the opposition, which contained a torrent of points—many of them unconvincing, but so many in number and so artfully organized that it would have taken a Cicero to sort through such a web in eight minutes. A Cicero Porus was not, and he proceeded to give a vicious speech accusing Yale A of making up lies. His unpracticed style made his words seem like a string of ad hominem attacks. Then Livia stood up and reaffirmed everything Tiberius had said, charming the judge into nodding throughout her speech. “Why are you being so mean?” she hissed at Porus. Another rainstorm of Tiberius, and there was little Kimel could do in the last five minutes. Harvard lost the round, and Porus and Kimel came to deeply resent Livia and Tiberius that weekend. Kimel’s opinion of Yale A would change over time as he came to appreciate many aspects of their style, but from the perspective of a novice, they made far from a positive first impression. Novices were cannon fodder in their eyes, and they made them know it.

Porus and Kimel kept losing round after round after that, many times undeservedly. In particular, Kimel gave a very insightful speech in a round about Beowulf, pleased to be placed on Opposition against the case. It didn’t matter—English was not the judge’s mother-tongue. Porus and Kimel ended up going 2-3, Kimel’s only losing record in his entire career. The out-rounds which followed were nothing that deserve to be immortalized in prose, and Porus and Kimel were still so annoyed at Livia and Tiberius that they gave them little stock as they made their speeches. Porus and Kimel even refused to participate in the final round’s floor vote, and were pleased that Yale dropped the round to a random team. This was perhaps callous, since TOTY was on the line, but they were still angry about the first round.

On their way home from the tournament, Sulla A and Kimel agreed that it would be a good idea if they tried to debate with each other the following year. Besides Porus and him, Fabius was also at the tournament, unabashedly judgmental and garrulous to the point of death, an opinionated man eager to give his opinions, and a good mimic besides. Josephus might have been there too, whose voice in those days had a tendency to fly into the soprano-range during a speech. Kimel has a vague memory of Rufus being there too, another novice, chanting “Yeah, Harvard!” in his breathy voice. Sulla B did not attend. He was another novice who seemed very interested in debate, but one who as yet lacked eloquence—he used to say the word “like” as a crutch in those days. But his wit and confident bite augured good things for him, even then.

Kimel was involved enough in the activity now to be interested in the Member at Large elections which were going to be held the following week. Agrippina had encouraged Kimel to apply and explained the cursus honorum of the team to him. Sophomores became a Members at Large, and juniors the President, Treasurer, or one of the Vice-Presidential positions. Senior years were spent without formal office. The elections would take place under the new administration of Scipio, who had just won a contentious election against Fabius the previous week. More on these intra-team politics next.

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