Tournament of Champions: Parliamentary Debaters advance through NYPDL Rounds

Rachel Baez and Jacqueline Shih

Three of the school’s Parliamentary Debate teams placed in the Varsity Division of this weekend’s New York Parliamentary Debate League (NYPDL) Tournament of Champions. After qualifying for this tournament at multiple NYPDL and some national circuits, the NYPDL invited three of the school’s teams to compete in this past tournament with the top 40 debaters on the East Coast.

Sophie Rukin (10) and Emily Grant (10) placed second in the Varsity division; Naomi Yaeger (10) and Elise Kang (10) placed fifth in the Varsity division; Jacqueline Shih (9) and Liam Kisling (10) placed second in the Novice division. 

The debaters also won individual speaker awards: Rukin placed 13th in Varsity, Grant placed 15th, Yaeger placed 17th, and Kang placed 22nd. Kisling ranked 16th and Shih ranked seventh in Novice. This NYPDL championship was structured differently from monthly NYPDL tournaments because each person had to qualify individually by being ranked as a top 40 debater, Rukin said.

In Parliamentary debate, participants only hear about their topics 15 minutes before the round, so they must debate based on common or prior knowledge. Debate rounds can cover a variety of topics, from foreign relations and economics to philosophy and pop culture, Yaeger said.

The tournament was broken up into two days: the first day had four preliminary rounds and one eliminary round, while the second day had four eliminary rounds and the Grand Final, Rukin said. Teams qualify for preliminary rounds either by having a certain number of votes or a certain number of wins out of four. The eliminary rounds were run under a double elimination format, which meant that each team could only lose two rounds before being eliminated from the competition entirely, Rukin said.

If Yaeger’s team made it to the eliminary round, they would have placed better, she said. Her team was one ballot away from breaking into the eliminary, after they had won two of their rounds, tied one, and lost another, she said. “It was quite frustrating knowing that we came so close to breaking in this major tournament.”

Rukin and Grant made it to the Grand Finals in their division, where they argued whether or not a second semester senior should enter a relationship with someone that they liked, Rukin said. Unfortunately, they lost that round because they ran a counterplan saying that the senior should choose to enter a friends-with-benefits situation. The round took a turn and ended up debating whether a friends-with-benefits relationship was any different than a relationship, Rukin said. At the end of the round, the judges said they lost because of this counterplan, she said.

Even though the school’s debaters went against the top debaters in the country, each speaker placed well individually and as a team, Rukin said. “I am honestly so proud of our Parli team this year.”

Co-president Nathan Zelizer (12) said that the team has prepared for tournaments throughout the school year through frequent meetings that taught parliamentary debate skills, familiarized debaters with the format of each round, and ran practice rounds, he said. “Ultimately, nothing can teach you or prepare you better than going to tournaments.”

The best way to prepare for tournaments is by participating in them, Yaeger said. “I am used to doing Parli, I’m used to speaking on my feet, I know how the structure works, I know what I need to improve on, so I came in [the tournament] ready to have fun,” she said.

Though there are not many ways to prepare for these tournaments besides gaining experience, Yaeger reads the daily briefly from New York Times and philosophy articles to stay up to date with the current events that could be potential debate topics, she said. Her partner reads economic articles, so as a team they are well rounded in their knowledge of potential topics.

This competition made Rukin look forward to next year, she said. “I’m excited for the future, I want to debate in more tournaments because I think Parli is truly an incredible form of debate.”

The club is going to thrive next year because it will be the first time that they have a batch of kids who have participated in the new Middle Division Parli team, Zelizer said. “Next year, teams will [also] have had real experience online debating, which will hopefully translate into in-person tournaments.”