Debate Wins National Tourney

Defending the morality of individuals’ rights to sell their votes and arguing in favor of life imprisonment without parole were among the battles Harvard’s Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society (HSPDS) fought on its way to a national championship title this weekend.

HSPDS won the national championship for the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), after a weekend of intense debating at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Bringing back a title that has not been Harvard’s since 1998, President Emeritus Nicolas B. Cornell ’04 and Martin L. Roth ’04 beat Cornell Unversity in the final round.

“It was quite exhilarating,” Roth said.

The final topic of debate was defending the idea of life imprisonment without parole. The issue, chosen by the other team, was one that Roth said he had not thought much about prior to the competition.

“It gave me a bit of a panic—my intuitions were on the other side. But this is what we do,” Cornell said.

And they did it well.

“We knew we were on top of our game,” Cornell said.

Cornell said that debating in front of an auditorium of about 400 people in the finals was a remarkable experience.

“It was thrilling but a little nerve-racking, a lot of nervous energy going on,” he said.

Roth said he was unable to predict the judges’ results and waited nervously for their final decision—a vote of six to three.

“We were pretty confident for the other rounds. We were on pins and needles for the final round decision,” Roth said.

Cornell described hearing his teamates hooting and cheering upon their victory.

“Marty [Roth] sort of jumped on top of me and gave me a big hug,” said Cornell, who celebrated last night with his team after the long drive home.

The senior said that both the tournament and the celebration was a great way to end his Harvard debate career.

“This is my last debate tournament ever,” he said. “It’s nice to know we are both going out on top.”

But even before the tournament started, Harvard was on top.

With 13 HSPDS students qualifying for the national tournament, Harvard set the record for most participants from any school in any year.

Last year, 11 Harvard students qualified for APDA, which draws members from 40 colleges and universities and includes every Ivy League school.

Cornell said in comparison to past years, competition was particularly tight.

“There were a lot of strong teams but no dominant teams, which made for exciting rounds,” he said.

President Scott M. Lichtenstein ’06 added that the tournament was “stressful,” with many Harvard teams starting off slowly.

“We definitely had a lot of last minute wins,” he said, attributing this year’s tremendous successes to the talented members.

“We have a lot of depth of skill. This year we had a very strong class,” he said.

In addition to the winning team, one other Harvard team—David V. Kimel ’05 and Richard J. Powell ’05—advanced beyond the preliminary round.

Last weekend’s victory was only one in a series for this year’s team.

HSPDS had top finishes in the APDA’s cumulative Team of the Year rankings.

Former team president Alexander J. Blenkinsopp ’05, who is also a Crimson editor, and Alex Potapov ’05 finished in 7th place, and Cornell and Roth placed 9th.

Earlier this year, Roth and Kimel finished 3rd at the North American Debate Championships.

—Staff writer Faryl W. Ury can be reached at ury@fas.harvard.edu.