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The Poison Ivy League Part 6-Nationals, 2002

May 3, 2011

Kimel did not compete at the National Championship in 2002, which was held at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). From the perspective of anymore north of Columbia, this was the Deep South, and the colleges of the North predictably lambasted the tournament as corrupt and biased. The competition broke to quarter-finals, and the top team from MIT was kept out of the break in favor of a team from Maryland due to a supposed error in the tabulation room. Readers can only imagine the uproar that this caused, especially since the best teams from the North, including Yale A, were kept out of the elimination rounds. The top team from Princeton ended up winning the tournament to the surprise of few people. Several Northerners consoled themselves by drinking enough alcohol to black out.

At the end of the competition, the yearly superlative awards were given out. Princeton took home both the National Championship and the Team of the Year titles. The Novice of the Year (NOTY) was Licinius from Cornell, auburn-haired and snappy. He was one of a series of excellent debaters from that distant school who will appear again and again in this story, although the college’s program has since seen itself sadly reduced. Interestingly, for all of Harvard’s later successes, few if any of its members were highly honored on the NOTY board, proof that the award is not necessarily predictive of later success.

Kimel heard many complaints about UMBC Nationals, ranging from the poor quality of the judging to the very smell of the campus. Since he didn’t attend, he can say nothing other than repeat that North-South relations were probably at their lowest ever this year and gossip at the hands of talkative people often turns malicious. When Agrippina accidentally overpaid for the teams Harvard sent to the tournament, Porcia, “the Mouth of the South,” refused to return the difference. Rumor promptly suggested that the cash was used to buy enough weed to fuel a year of Southern get-togethers. There was of course no proof at all of this slander on the UMBC team, but it was repeated so often and with such self-assurance that it gained the aura of fact, particularly at Harvard. This argument over money, ridiculous in its particulars, came to epitomize the struggle between North and South in the eyes of many debaters, and to this day, it is unclear if UMBC ever recompensed Harvard for Agrippina’s last mistake as outgoing President.

The last event of Kimel’s novice year was Incest-Fest, a raucous in-house tournament held at the end of every season at which two-person Harvard teams are randomly paired together for four rounds of ridiculous cases, the four highest speakers then breaking to finals. Kimel was paired with Sulla A in the fourth round. They were hitting a graduating senior. The round soon became too heated for a friendly in-house tournament, and Sulla and the senior began a series of angry exchanges. Sulla criticized the senior’s rhetorical style. The senior suggested that Sulla was no one to critique him or his oratory. It was all extremely awkward, and even more so when Sulla then found himself paired into the final round, which he promptly lost.

Sulla A was extremely ambitious; a Member at Large and the Room Manager for the next year’s tournament, he had even run for Treasurer and allegedly only narrowly lost out to Trimalchio, a committed sophomore but as yet unsuccessful on APDA. Had Sulla won a position on the Administrative Board as Treasurer, it likely would have significantly worsened relations on the team among people in Kimel’s class, which contained several ambitious personalities. At Incest-Fest, Sulla displayed a kind of single-minded over-zealousness that would often get him into trouble during the upcoming year—the climb to Olympus would prove steep and difficult at parts. For Kimel’s part, he was often mistakenly called by Sulla’s name by confused older members of the circuit until at least the end of his sophomore year. Why, he wondered to himself, couldn’t he and Sulla A both be called Kimel instead?

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