Over the past several months the Williams Parliamentary Debate Team has steadily risen to become one of the most potent forces on the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) circuit.
APDA, the largest debate circuit in the country, consists of more than 50 colleges around the nation, including all of the Ivy League schools, most other top eastern colleges, and a few colleges farther west such as Stanford and University of Chicago. Parliamentary debate is a competition between two teams which mimics debate in the British Parliament, and stresses eloquent speaking along with analytical reasoning. In a debate round a two-person team assumes the role of the Government team and proposes a case to be debated, and the other team becomes the Opposition team and attempts to disprove the proposed case. Tournaments typically have five preliminary rounds, followed by two or three playoff rounds.
Even though the APDA Team of the Year (Chris Willenken and Amanda Amert) graduated from Williams in 1997, Novice Coordinator Rob Wiygul ‘00 believes that this year’s debaters actually have more depth as a team and thus a greater potential for success. A large part of the team’s current success can be attributed to the outstanding debate of President Jon Kravis ‘99 and Captain Adrian Ludwig ‘98.
Despite going to many fewer tournaments than most other top teams, Kravis and Ludwig are currently the second place team on APDA, and Jon is the tenth place speaker. Notable accomplishments from the two include finishing second out of 144 teams at Harvard, first out of 57 teams at Brown, and fourth out of over forty teams at MIT. Kravis was the third speaker at Brown and the second at MIT.
Treasurer Eric Soskin ‘99 says of the two, “Whereas styles can be imitated from sight, the depth of analysis that Jon and Adrian display in conjunction with their humor is not easily acquired, even by smart people. It’s this depth that has allowed them to consistently beat the best debaters from Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and elsewhere.”
When asked about his success this years Kravis spreads the credit around saying, “One of the great things about the Williams debate team is that we aren’t affiliated with faculty members or grad students… we train each other. Because we all work together to prepare for tournaments, I think the success of individual teams is really everyone’s success.”
While Kravis and Ludwig have enjoyed a spectacular degree of success this season, they are not alone in their accomplishments as Williams’s second team of Rob Wiygul and Eric Soskin ‘99 has also excelled. At Harvard Wiygul and Soskin placed ninth and last weekend at Tufts they placed fourth out of more than 40 teams. In addition Wiygul was the sixth place speaker at Harvard in a field of more than 280 debaters. At the Tufts Tournament, a major Williams success, Wiygul was the top speaker while Adrian Ludwig and his temporary partner, Ben Karlin from Brown, were the top team. Novice debater Josh Kelner ‘01 attributes the success of Wiygul and Soskin to their incredible analysis. “They are easily one of the strongest analytical teams on the circuit,” he noted.
Soskin credits the success of this year’s team to synergy. “Certainly Jon and Adrian and Rob and I complement each other. The ability to introduce reasoning from different perspectives and philosophies enables us to trounce many teams whose style is more polished.”
Whatever the key to this success may be, it appears that it will likely continue. The only senior on the team is Ludwig, and there has been a greater influx of novices this year than at any time in recent memory.
“We have a relatively small, close-knit team. Jon and Adrian spend a lot of time working with the novice members, which helps them develop as debaters at a faster level than their rivals on bigger, more impersonal teams,” states Wiygul.
As a result of this interaction many novices including Josh Kelner, Samee Ahmed ‘01, Chris Kemmitt ‘01, Ben Katz ‘01 and Annaliis Abrego ‘01 have placed in novice standings either individually or as teams, and continue to improve. Much of this improvement is the result of frequent practice rounds and constructive criticism from the senior members of the team, especially Novice Coordinator Wiygul. Thanks to all of these factors the Williams debate team is likely to only get better in the future.