The Yale Debate Association ended its season by receiving the American Parliamentary Debate Association’s Club of the Year Award, besting Harvard 558.75 to 343.
The team of Michael Barton ’14 and Zach Bakal ’14 won the national championship, which took place at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend. After qualifying more debaters than any other university in the country, Yale placed five out of seven of its teams — each composed of two individuals from the club — in the top 16 teams nationally.
“We had an excellent showing this weekend and one of our most successful in the past few years,” said Diana Li ’15, YDA captain and a former staff reporter for the News. “Winning nationals is a great way to cap off a really successful year.”
The final round of the national tournament took place between the Yale team of Barton and Bakal and a debate team from Rutgers University, who presented the argument that the Sean Penn film “Milk” unrealistically portrayed the sexuality of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay individual to be elected to public office in California. Bakal and Barton argued that the film’s inaccuracies were to the benefit of California, which was polling for Proposition 8 — a state ballot proposition against same-sex marriage — shortly after the movie’s release.
The round was incredibly important to both the two seniors and the team, said coach David Kimel GRD ’16. Prior to nationals, the Harvard team of Josh Zoffer and Shomik Ghosh had won the international championship and sealed their lead in the Team of the Year cumulative rankings.
“Going into the national championship there was a real sense of excitement and apprehension because it was Yale’s last opportunity to win a title,” Kimel said.
Other Yale students who placed in the top 16 at the tournament were Li, Tony Nguyen ’16, Edwin Zhang ’16, Nick Cugini ’14, Eric Brooks ’14, Sam Ward-Packard ’14, Allison Douglis ’15 and Joanna Zheng ’14.
The tournament was a high-tension event, said YDA member Delaney Herndon ’17. In one round, two Yale senior teams debated against one another — a situation that inevitably led to the end of a four-year debating career for one of the teams, Herndon said.
Kimel said the team’s success can largely be attributed to the Yale debate team’s institutional legacy. The YDA has won the cumulative Club of the Year award every year since the award’s establishment in 2008.
“I think that the best thing about the debate team is how driven everyone is to succeed and learn from each other,” Kimel said. “You see people doing practice rounds in their free time, discuss new cases and go over new ideas with their coaches — it dominates a lot of their time. And the reward is that the Yale team has hands-down been the best in the country for a long time now.”
Though the debating season has come to a close and current seniors will leave campus after this semester, Barton said, the future of the association is still in good hands. Two of the non-senior teams in the top 16 were only eliminated because they were made to debate another Yale team. The sophomore team of Zhang and Nguyen also made it to the quarterfinal round — a feat not even Bakal and Barton had accomplished as underclassmen.
“Nationals was really a coming-out party for some of the best talent on our team,” Barton said.
Nonetheless, YDA member Lauren Blonde ’16 said the team’s younger members still have the sense that there are big shoes to fill. She said the pressure is now on underclassmen to perform at the level of their graduating peers when the next season begins this fall.
More than 100 teams competed in the national tournament from April 18 to 20.