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The Poison Ivy League Part 49-A Second Chance at the North American Championship

May 3, 2011

Though the title of North American Champion sounds more lofty than that of National Champion or TOTY, the award was in fact secondary in prestige to the latter badges of merit. Unlike Nationals, the contest was open to all participants rather than an exclusive set, and the fate of many rounds was decided before they were held by the existence of restrictive tight-links (forced topics) which often favored one side over the other. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, “NorthAms” was nothing but a large tournament with Canadian contenders thrown in for good measure. Still, the magic of a prospective title held its charms for those who participated in service to their thirst for glory, and as for the hoi polloi, merely making it to quarter-finals meant a qualification for Nationals.

The possibility of winning a Championship was not enough to tempt Jason to brave the long trip to Cornell, where the contest was to be held that year. Kimel consequently made arrangements to partner with Petronius, Josephus pairing up with Arianna. Although Cato and his entourage would be out of the running as hosts of the tournament, all of the best teams in the country would be there including Crassus and Pompey, Lepidus and Antony, the Sullas, and a reunited Piso and Plancinus. Along for the ride were Sulla C and Porus; the latter scarcely debated now. Much of the pre-tournament banter centered on the impending presence of Fabius and Livia at the contest among the organizers. It seemed strange to Kimel to encounter these figures after so much time. Fabius had in fact visited Harvard once before that school year and complained that his welcome seemed more muted than he would have hoped. Now it was his return to return the favor, for he stayed in the company of the other staff-members that weekend and scarcely fraternized with his old mess-mates.

On the way to the competition, Petronius and Kimel discussed the possibility of scratching Livia as a judge. Though she was more than a first-rate debater, she had something of a reputation for being a harsh adjudicator, and Kimel was afraid that she was not favorably disposed toward him. After all, they had little to unite them but the memory of shrill rounds where she had lorded it over him, to say nothing of the bitter recollection of the Fairfield tournament Kimel’s freshman year when he and Porus refused to support her during the pivotal floor vote that might have decided TOTY in her favor. Moreover, Kimel had seen Livia judge several rounds and consistently disagreed with her decisions. For example, he recalled that she had dropped Fabius and Scipio in quarter-finals of Nationals the previous year in preference to Vergil and his lackluster partner when it seemed clear to most observers that Harvard had won the debate. Nevertheless, Kimel and Petronius decided that the bad will they would incur by scraching her, which was sure to reach her ears in the tabulation room, was not worth the effort of doing so.

As it happened, the tournament proved to be a triumphant success for Kimel and Petronius. The combination of Kimel’s verbal agility and Petronius’s imposing, jovial presence disarmed their adversaries round after round, including a magnificent Lepidus and Antony after a particularly interesting, intense sequence of speeches. Their combined powers in fact won every in-round but one, when Livia happened to be among the judges. It was about whether lawyers should be required to perform pro-bono work. In answer to his Canadian opponent, Kimel pointed out that lawyers owed a great deal to the state—they made their very livelihoods on the foundations of the public court system and could thus be expected to support society in turn when duty and the greater good called upon them to do so. Livia herself nodded grudgingly at this argument, which Kimel counted as a singular honor.

Breaking among the top-scoring teams, Kimel and Petronius progressed smoothly from octo-finals to quarter-finals, where they were pitted against Crassus and Pompey. In a repeat of the previous year’s drama, Kimel again robbed his Southern counterparts of the opportunity at a title. This time, William and Mary ran the case that Belgium should be required to pay reparations to the Congo. Kimel pointed out that the guilt for African colonialism far transcended Belgium, but extended to every nation that had participated in the 19th century Berlin Conference which partitioned Africa. If anything, the EU should sponsor aid programs rather than individual countries doing so, and it should certainly take every precaution when dealing with the Congo, where aid could well fall into the hands of rebel soldiers. Kimel also mentioned that despite the evils of imperialism, the Belgians entered Africa with good intentions, and much of the infrastructure in the country, or what exists of it, owes a great deal to its colonial past. Finally, it was unclear why modern Beligium, a cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic society, should be forced to spend tax money for the guilt of past centuries. Kimel won the debate on a unianomous decision and came to consider it one of his finest rounds. It was promptly followed by one of his most disappointing.

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