The Yale Debate Association has had an notably successful year despite the club moving online. Most recently, members received top awards at the American Parliamentary Debate Association’s Online National Tournament, which occurred from April 23 to April 25. 

The YDA brought six teams of two to the tournament. One team in particular, composed of Matt Song ’24 and Trent Kannegieter ’21, placed in second, Yale’s highest placement at the tournament since 2018. Another two teams were “octafinalists,” meaning they were ranked in the top 16 teams.

“I’m really proud of the team,” YDA President Alexander Gordon ’22 said in an interview with the News. “The resilience and dedication and passion that people showed not only for debate but commitment to each other, and the amount of training and energy that they invested in debate I think went up this year.”

In addition, former YDA President Ellie Singer ’22 received first place for speaker of the year, Yale’s first top national speaker since 2007, according to a press release from the YDA.

Singer also received the Jeff Williams Award, which is awarded to a fourth-year debater who has earned “the most finishes in the top 10 of any ‘of the year’ category,” according to the press release.

“I’ve looked up to past winners of these awards for so long and never thought I’d be one,” Singer wrote in an email to the News. “Honestly, I still doubt myself a bit, but I do think it’s bigger than me. Debate, like many activities, struggles a lot with issues of equity including sexism. So most of all, I just hope this reminds other women and gender minorities that we belong, and can thrive, in this activity.”

All tournaments and practices transitioned online due to the pandemic this year. Although students lost the social aspect of traveling to tournaments, the team adapted and found several silver linings with the process being digital, Gordon said.

For example, online competitions made competing against elite international competition regularly “logistically feasible and affordable in a way that it never has been before,” Kannegieter noted.

‘We adapted remarkably well, I think,” Song said. “Everything can happen over Zoom. And in some ways it is more convenient because you don’t need to physically go to a place to do a practice round or physically go to a tournament, which reduced a lot of accessibility barriers and also increased convenience in some ways.”

Because the tournament was online, more people could watch. Around 100 people were in the audience for the final round where Song and Kannegieter competed. Some of the audience consisted of YDA alumni, who were able to come back via the online platform.

Some of the topics Song and Kannegieter debated include North Korean geopolitics, copyright law and Japanese internment in the United States during WWII.

“On the less tangible front, we were really having fun,” Kannegieter said. “We gave ourselves permission to forget any competitive implications and just enjoy each round. We got to talk about topics we care about against opponents we really respect.”

The team made an effort throughout the year to provide spaces for the YDA to be “more than just a competitive environment,” Gordon said.

For example, members were able to participate in a “lunch tag system” which paired up YDA students and allowed them to form connections. During tournaments, the team would eat together on Zoom. The YDA subsidized meals so that members could each order their food.

“Our little Zoom calls, the practice rounds we have, lunch tags and office hours each week, those are the things that really kind of make you feel like you still have some connection to a place that you are physically away from, socially away from, academically away from,” Song said.

The Yale Debate Association was founded in 1908.

Alex used to cover all things the Divinity School. Now, she serves as Weekend Editor. She's a junior in Trumbull majoring in English.