The Williams Debate Team competed in the finals of the National American Parliamentary Debate Association’s tournament on April 17-19. Against 64 teams, Team President Jon Kravis ’99 and Adrian Ludwig ’98 finished second in the nation. Joshua Kelner ’01 and Robert Wiygul ’00 finished eighth in the nation.
It was the first time in Williams history the debate team competed in this tournament, held at George Washington University in Washington D.C.
The two Williams teams qualified for the single elimination bracket comprised of the 16 teams with the best records. Kravis and Ludwig were second seed, and Kelner and Wiygul were seeded fourteenth. Kravis said he was pleased with the teams’ performance, and he earned the position as the number two speaker overall. “In some ways I just couldn’t believe how well we were doing,” Kravis said. “We went into the tournament hoping to do well, maybe make it to [the semi-fianal round], but I never really thought we had a realistic shot to go as far as we did.”
Kravis and Ludwig qualified for the tournament by reaching the finals of a regular tournament during the regular season, and Kelner and Wiygul entered as the school’s singular free entry.
The debates were run on a two-on-two format in which one team selected a topic and the other opposed it. Each team made three speeches, with rounds lasting approximately 50 minutes. Every team debated two rounds on that Friday and four rounds on Saturday.On the final day of the tournament, the top 16 teams were put into a quarter-final bracket and the Williams teams proceeded to reach the finals. The final round was taped by C-Span and held at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.
“Our octo-finals were pretty easy; we beat a team from Princeton, but in the quarters we hit a really good team from N.Y.U.,” Kravis said. “They argued that, should a referendum on secession pass in Quebec, Canada should allow them to secede.” Kravis and Ludwig won this debate 3-2.
In the final debate, the team debated against Harvard, arguing that when a state’s social services department handles a child-welfare case negligently the deparment should be held criminally liable. The Harvard team won this round. Despite this defeat, Kelner noted, “Adrian was tenth speaker and Jon was second speaker. They were the second team overall, which is really big.”
The Debate Team has improved since the beginning of the season. “What made this year particularly exciting is that from the very beginning we have been outperforming expectations. Neither we, nor any of our competitors expected Williams to be such a force this year. Since September our top teams have been placing at tournaments, and our youngest competitors have been beating top teams. Having two teams place in the top eight at Nationals speaks to the effort that the entire team has been making,” Ludwig said.
“Williams’s performance at the tournament was a dream come true for me, not only because debating in the finals of nationals is such an incredible honor and amazing experience, but also because it was so thrilling to watch Josh and Rob do so well,” Kravis said. “They’ve come so far from where they were at the beginning of the year, we all have, and to see that transformation in a result like this is really unbelieveable.”
Kelner and Wiygul were the only first-year and sophomore debaters to reach the quarter-finals. They placed third novice and twentieth speaker respectively.
“I wasn’t really nervous until we got there and looked around the room and I saw all the really accomplished debaters on the circuit and I got a little worried,” Kelner said. “After I got through a few rounds I started feeling a lot better.”
Students interested in learning more about parliamentary debate should contact Kravis this spring.