Williams debate team excels at nationals

Williams’ own Jon Kravis ’99 and Rob Wiygul ’00 took third place in last weekend’s 1999 American Parliamentary Debate Associations National Championship Tournament held at Fordham University.

Over 60 two-person teams hailing from various colleges throughout the country earned the right to attend the tournament, which lasted from Friday afternoon to early Sunday evening.

Parliamentary debate, which pits one two-person team against another, is a relatively informal style of debate with an emphasis on quick thinking, wit and eloquent speaking.

The Government, or Proposition, team is in charge of proposing and defending a particular case, while the Opposition must successfully demonstrate the government position to be untenable or otherwise flawed. Given the structural format of the round, the Government team enters at a significant disadvantage. A judge then decides the round based upon who he or she thought was the more persuasive team.

At Nationals six preliminary rounds take place through the first two days of the tournament, after which the top eight teams compete in a single elimination round robin.

Williams was represented by a pair of teams at Nationals: the first team consisting of Kravis and Wiygul, the second team of Josh Kelner ’01 and Chris Kemmitt ’01. After getting off to a slow start, Kelner and Kemmitt finished the weekend in the middle of the pack with a final record of 3-3. However, the other Williams team was notably more successful.

The previous year, Williams enjoyed great success at Nationals with one team placing second (Kravis and Adrian Ludwig ’98), another team finishing eighth (Wiygul and Kelner) and with Kravis being named the second speaker at the tournament. Given their previous performances, Kravis and Wiygul entered this year’s Nationals as one of the favorites to win the tournament, despite having attended only a few tournaments together this past year.

The first day went well for Kravis and Wiygul, as they managed to win both of their initial rounds. Through the next couple rounds Williams’ good fortune continued as they extended their record to 4-0, temporarily placing them as one of the top four teams at the tournament.

In the fifth round Kravis and Wiygul faced their biggest challenge to this point of the tournament as they hit a team from Johns Hopkins University that had earned Team of the Year honors. Williams was on government, and couldn’t quite overcome the disadvantage, losing a very close round. Now at 4-1, Kravis and Wiygul needed to win their last round in order to qualify for the break rounds.

In the words of Wiygul, “We were boxed into a bit of a corner in our last round because we were forced to defend a time based tenure system for high school teachers, an idea whose popularity is clearly waning.” Fortunately, Williams came through and managed to solidly defeat their opponent, thus paving the way to the quarterfinals.

When the final four rounds were announced Wiygul and Kravis were seeded as the second place team at the tournament, and were slated to face a team from Columbia University that had placed second in Team of the Year standings. Williams lost the coin flip, and was forced to take the government side. What began as a fairly good round soon degenerated, as the Columbia team tried to circumvent any sort of direct conflict in the round and take a position that failed to actually oppose the government team’s proposal. As a result, Kravis and Wiygul decimated the Columbia team and won a 5-0 judges decision.

The Williams victory set the stage for a rematch of their fifth round against Johns Hopkins and yet again Williams lost the coin toss and was forced to assume the government side. Williams proposed a case espousing strict textualism in interpretation of the Constitution, and criticizingthe principle of framers intent. In what was probably the best round of the tournament, the two teams fought back and forth for forty minutes during which time the outcome was continually up in the air.

Unfortunately, Williams lost a 5-2 judges decision. The loss was certainly disappointing, but, in the words of Wiygul, “They were definitely a great team, so you can’t really be too sad.” Fortunately, Kravis and Wiygul did not let the loss get them down, and managed to look on the bright side.

“Doing as well as we did at nationals this year was an incredible experience. Its just an amazing feeling knowing that the sixty best teams in the country come to compete at one tournament, and by Sunday afternoon 56 of them are watching you and three others duke it out. I felt like Rob and I really worked well together at this tournament, and I’ll be able to look back on some of those rounds as the most exciting and challenging of my career,” commented Kravis.

When the final results were read late Sunday afternoon, Kravis and Wiygul had much to be proud of, finishing as the third team overall. Jon also finished individually as the third speaker at the tournament. All in all it was a very successful and satisfying experience, though of course, as Kravis notes, it would have been nice to have won one of those coin tosses.

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