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The Poison Ivy League Part 54-Busted Decisions

May 3, 2011

Perhaps Sulla A’s most far-sighted contribution as President of HSPDS was to alter longstanding tradition and allow teams to compete by their initials instead of by ranked letters, an innovation Scott wisely decided to continue as his successor. For this reason, Kimel and Wen usually competed as “Harvard KW.” Since the graduating class of 2005 was so riotously touchy, this policy was likely a blessing. At Princeton, however, the conservative tabulation room forced everyone to follow their own team’s practices and compete under letters. Since Kimel and Jason were ahead of the Sullas in the TOTY race, they were given the title Harvard A by the staff.

This led to a pleasant repercussion. Before the announcement of outrounds, Kimel sat by himself in the general assembly room drawing cartoons of eyeballs in his notebook to pass the time. He thought about the expressions on the faces of Germanicus and Atticus when they failed to break at Princeton their senior year. Nervous and bored, he looked for someone to socialize with and found Lucretia sitting among her friends from Amherst. They talked about the TOTY race for a while and how exciting it had suddenly become. Kimel said that he hoped that things would turn out well for himself and knocked on wood. If he were an ancient Roman, he observed, he’d make some kind of sacrifice to a chthonic deity to help himself along. Lucretia smiled and said that regardless of the outcome of the race, Harvard had managed to qualify more people than any other school for Nationals that year, more people than any other team in history in fact, and to compete as Harvard A in the company of such a crowd was already a victory. Kimel thanked her for these words and committed them to memory, considering them a fitting epitaph with which to console himself should he ultimately lose out on the TOTY race.

The tournament broke to octo-finals and every important team but Crassus and Pompey managed to advance. After avenging themselves against Piso and Plancinus, Kimel and Jason faced Johns Hopkins in quarter-finals. Harvard was on Opposition. The Sullas had fallen in octo-finals and were in the audience, so Kimel hoped to put on a good show for them. As it happened, this hope went unfulfilled. In no mood to lose, Antony and Lepidus ran the case that the United States should grant asylum to individuals in danger of assassination in foreign countries due to their homosexuality. In retrospect, this was an almost impossible case against which to effectively argue, but Jason did exceptionally well milking the idea of the slippery slope as best he could. He was in rare form in his Member of Opposition speech and seemed to carry a good deal of positive sentiment among the audience members. Nevertheless, Harvard lost the round on a 2-1 decision and was forced to watch mutely as Johns Hopkins mowed over Cato and reached finals. Another victory would have ended the TOTY race then and there. Only Sappho and some anonymous student from Swarthmore now stood in their way. Vespasian, Jason, and Kimel sat beside each other in a cramped car during the round with no idea what its outcome would be. It was by telephone that they learned the news. Lepidus and Antony had lost. Needless to say, this was grounds for celebration.

Kimel knew that a victory at the following week’s Mount Holyoke tournament would be just enough to propel him from third place back to first in the TOTY race. Realizing the contest’s importance weeks beforehand, he had systematically begun setting the battlefield to his advantage, forcing himself to memorize the names of the leaders of the Moho team and socializing with them in hopes of endearing himself to his future judges. He was well aware that Lepidus had been dating the former leader of the team and that he was consequently very popular at the school. Kimel knew that he would have to do everything possible to deflect any favoritism toward his cause. Feeling out the sentiments of each individual student, he gossiped strategically about Lepidus but managed to learn nothing more interesting than the old rumor that his family transported him around exclusively by limousine and helicopter.

Ultimately, Kimel and Wen broke to outrounds and, as if the Fates were determined to make matters as dramatic as possible, faced Crassus and Pompey in quarter-finals, who also had TOTY in their sights. This would in fact be the last time that these teams would debate against each other.

Crassus and Pompey were strong adversaries who went on to achieve legendary status on APDA. Seldom had a pair from the North or South seen such competitive success week after week. By the end of the following season, Crassus would in fact even break the record of the legendary Brian Fletcher in his total number of final round appearances, though in fairness, many of the tournaments that he won were comparatively small. That Crassus of all people would so distinguish himself was surprising to Kimel, since he was known for sticking mainly to a handful of strong rhetorical points in most speeches and seldom presented especially original ideas. He was masterful at swaying judges to his side in ambiguous rounds, but certainly not especially effective at responding to barrages of strong, concisely stated counter-arguments, as quarter-finals at Moho proved. Crassus ran the case that public universities should not favor in-state students in their admissions processes. Kimel pointed out that these universities were funded by local tax-money, and that it thus seemed reasonable to favor the local populace. An additional advantage would be preventing brain-drains by enticing talented local students to attend state-schools, to say nothing of the competitive disadvantage the state would suffer compared to its neighbors who would effectively discriminate against its students by continuing to favor their own. This ability to map out a web of arguments was usually enough to ensnare Crassus. He was really more of a murmillo than a retiarius.

Johns Hopkins also advanced to semi-finals and were meant to hit Harvard now, but the well-meaning directors of the Moho team evidently wanted to wait until the final round for this matchup, since this would lead to the most drama and help both teams’ TOTY ambitions. What this scheme implies about the likely results of semi-finals readers can decide for themselves. As it was, Alexander from Amherst, partnered with Arianna and very rarely a survivor in the break, caught that the rounds were paired incorrectly. Like it or not, Hopkins would have to face Harvard in semi-finals.

Stuck on Government, Kimel knew that he had a difficult, pivotal round before him. Lepidus and Antony were more effective than Crassus and Pompey at facing a diversity of arguments and then focusing the debate on more singular issues, a potentially effective antidote to Kimel’s manic approach. Kimel somberly remembered that he should have been more assertive at Northams when it came to case-selection in semi-finals, and so he convinced Jason to let him run the case with which he was most comfortable: whether or not the Brothers Grimm should censor their fairy tales. But this was a case that everyone had heard by now, and dealing as it did with issues of aesthetic taste, Lepidus and Antony were especially well equipped against it. As it played out, the round was tense but unmemorable enough that Kimel eventually forgot what side each team defended. When it was all over, the three judges looked nervously at each other and left the room.

Everyone waited in the general assembly for the results. Minutes felt like hours. Kimel had done his best to stare at the judges during his opponents’ speeches (he’d picked up this habit from Germanicus) and, after gauging their reactions, guessed that he might have won, but just barely. But then a member of the Mount Holyoke team shuffled sadly to the microphone and announced that on a “fiercely contested decision,” the winner was Johns Hopkins. Lepidus and Antony would be facing the Amherst/Harvard hybrid in finals.

Kimel shook his opponents’ hands and then wandered out of them room. By chance, he met one of the judges in the hallway. She began to cry.

“Sic transit gloria mundi,eh?” said Kimel with a forced smile

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. Besides, what control did you have over the situation?”

“But you don’t understand,” she said with sudden urgency. “You weren’t supposed to hit until finals. And besides, you and Jason should have won semi-finals.”

“Truth is in the eye of the beholder.”

“But you lost… lost because of politics.”

For a moment, Kimel said nothing. His first instinct was to doubt what he heard. The round had been messy and unpleasant, and Kimel’s victory was by no means obvious. At the same time, he could not believe that Lepidus’ popularity, for all of its strength, would ever pave the way for deliberate corruption on his part. He was, however, willing enough to concede that feelings of friendship toward Hopkins might have swayed some decisions in the ambiguous round. After all, who was Kimel to argue with someone who would know?

“Is the TOTY race over for you now?” she asked mournfully.

“It will be,” Kimel said quietly, “if Hopkins win this round.”


“But if that wasn’t to happen, I would say that the race would remain most contentious.”

The judge looked at Kimel thoughtfully for a moment, and then they both smiled.

Arianna and Alexander now faced Lepidus and Antony. Arianna was thoughtful and intelligent as always, but Alexander was just superb. Finally in a final round and eager to show off his long-overlooked talents, he ran the case that Amherst should not have excluded a radical Republican speaker from its campus, but should rather have welcomed his views in service to open discourse. This was perhaps almost as difficult a case to argue against as America supplying aid to oppressed homosexuals, but Lepidus and Antony did a good job making their observations sound more meaningful than they really were. The judges soon left the room to deliberate. A few moments later they returned. Kimel caught the eye of his confidante. On her face she wore a grin.

It was an 8-1 decision. With Arianna by his side, Alex had managed to do what never proved possible with Messalina and win a tournament. Lepidus ultimately won a third place speaker award. Kimel was second, and Jason first. The TOTY race was now anyone’s guess.

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