Debate team, ranked No. 1, readies for Berlin competition

The No. 1 debate team prepares for it final competition of the season in Berlin Dec. 27-Jan. 4.

Ryan Yeh '13
Daniel Blackman '13 and Alex Bores '13

Cornell students head for Berlin in late December to defend the Big Red's standing as No. 1 in the world of university debate.

The Cornell Forensics Society was ranked first among 800 teams internationally Nov. 19 by the International Debate Education Association. The team will complete its season Dec. 27-Jan 4 in Berlin at the 33rd World Universities Debating Championships.

Based at the ILR School, the 100-student squad is sending three teams of two to compete in Germany: Alex Bores '13 and Daniel Blackman '13, both in ILR; Ryan Yeh '13, economics and psychology, and Kirat Singh '14, economics and government; and Srinath Reddy '14 mathematics, economics and government, and Julius Kairey '15, government.

They will be accompanied by Paul Gross, MILR '14, and Christine Kao Yu '14, who will serve as competition judges.

The debaters have had success in 2012 tournaments at the University of Toronto, Yale University, University of Vermont, University of Rochester, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Five years ago, Cornell wasn't ranked among the top 100 teams, said Sam Nelson, director of the university's forensics program and a senior lecturer at ILR. Now, it's only the second American team to make it to the top slot. Yale, knocked to No. 2 by the fresh ratings, was the other top-ranked school.

"We created a culture that second best is not enough," said Nelson. Daily practices and a team deep with talent has contributed to the team's success, he added.

The group's new campus home -- ILR -- is another reason, Nelson said. Since moving to the school three years ago, the team has received support "in every way," he said. "And that's been the difference."

Singh, the team's vice president of external affairs, said the Cornell debate program is "particularly proud of the willingness of upperclassmen to invest their time in younger members of the team. They'll often help answer questions or host practice rounds for new members.

"Even during actual competitions, the dynamic continues; in between rounds, Cornell debaters are constantly checking up on each other, sharing arguments and providing encouragement," he said.

Yu, vice president of internal affairs for the debate team, said, "It is wonderful to see how the younger members take their cues from the older ones and perpetuate this culture of support and teamwork.

"We also have a huge freshman class that is exceptionally talented and competitive, which is a great incentive for the upperclassmen to continue to up their game," she said.

Thirty debaters are first-year students.

Other teams in the current top 10 are from Canada, England, Australia and the Philippines

Mary Catt is assistant director of communications at the ILR School.


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