May Zhee Lim, Senior Staff

The UR Debate Union sent an unprecedented number of competitors to the 2012 Cornell Debate Tournament held Friday, Feb. 10 to Saturday, Feb. 12 in Ithaca. Many of the 50 students who competed placed impressively in competitions that included both policy debate and British Parliamentary debate.

More than 320 debaters from across the country competed.

Seniors Kevin Diamond and Vijay Kasschau took first place in the Varsity Division, after standing 5-1 in the preliminary debates and making a perfect run in the elimination rounds. Both debaters also won speaking awards, with Diamond taking Top Speaker and Kasschau taking third place Speaker. This was the highlight of their debate careers as Vijay is the team’s current president and Diamond is a former president, according to professor and Debate Coach Ken Johnson.

Sophomore Amelia Poulin and junior Chiranjeevi Raghunath took fifth place in the Junior Varsity Division. Junior LJ Abrell and sophomore Cody Monday also held a tight race, taking second place in the Novice division after running 4-1 in the preliminaries.

This year, the national policy debate topic was, “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase its democracy assistance for one or more of the following: Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen.”

Preparation for this historic and prestigious tournament began in August as students practiced debating, researching topics and drilling public speaking — often late into the night with the assistant debate coaches.

“Our students have a great work ethic and it really paid off this weekend,” said Johnson. “Next up are regional and national championships, we plan to work hard, debate hard, and win.”

The University has one of the biggest debate teams in the U.S., with 70 students who travel to tournaments throughout the semester.

“We sent a large number of teams simply because we had a ton of people sign up,” Johnson said. “Debate is so important and powerful. Our coaches and team leaders feel they have a duty to try and extend the opportunity to debate to as many people as possible.”

The team is open to anyone on campus and its allure seems to come from the many skills cultivated on the team, ranging from public speaking to argument structure, as well as learning about the current topics.

Although the competition is divided by Varsity, Junior Varsity and Novice, students have the opportunity to compete at the level and format of their choosing. This year junior Catherine Zeng competed in the British Parliamentary format.

Also placing in the Varsity Division were junior Vinit Akolkar and senior Thomas Weddington in fifth; freshman Camilo Benitez and sophomore Rebecca Schaffer took fifth place in the Novice Division.

Johnson is a member of the class of 2013.

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