UC Berkeley debate team wins national tournament

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Henry Tolchard/Courtesy

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After months of training, the Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley team spent its spring break in Portland, competing in — and winning — the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence.

The National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, or NPTE, is invite-only, and to qualify, teams must demonstrate “consistent results” throughout the season, according to team member and campus sophomore Brian Yang. This year, Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley sent four teams, or partnerships, in total to compete — Yang and junior Henry Tolchard, who is a news reporter at The Daily Californian, took first place.

The teams, which included UC Berkeley students Thomas Kadie and Thomas Liao, Zara Andrabi and Salim Damerdji, and Isabella Riezler and Adrian Tang, placed seventh, eighteenth and twentieth, respectively.

Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley considers itself “the most successful student-run organization in the U.S. … where students can travel throughout the nation to compete against the top debaters around the country,” according to its website. The organization, however, has struggled with funding-related issues, according to Yang, causing the team’s performance to be “somewhat inconsistent.”

Alice Lin, Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley alumna and former student director, also spoke of the team’s financial struggles and NPTE success.

“It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the debaters and student leadership that they not only brought home the team’s first championship in the history of the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, but also excelled across-the-board by advancing all four teams to elimination rounds,” Lin said in an email.

NPTE also awarded individual debaters “speaker awards” to recognize individual performance during the tournament. Debaters Kadie, Liao, Yang and Tolchard placed third, fourth, tenth and twentieth, respectively.

Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley, unlike many similar organizations on campus, specializes in the national parliamentary style of debate, which is focused on extemporaneous speaking and direct debate skills rather than speaking style and presentation, according to Riezler.

“I hold a special place in my heart for the squad of Parliamentary debate at Berkeley,” said NPTE President and tournament director Kathryn Starkey in an email. “Students give up their debate eligibility to help run their team. They conduct practices, facilitate all travel arrangements, and spend countless hours running high school tournaments.”

When asked about their favorite memories with Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley, however, the debaters’ answers had less to do with their win than with their experiences as teammates. Riezler recalled that her best experiences involved getting sushi and doughnuts with her team and listening to music during tournaments.

Yang recalled that his relatives were “confused” when Yang got involved with Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley, given his major in computer science, but he said debate isn’t as focused on politics as many believe.

“At its core, debate is about portable skills like critical thinking and research ability,” Yang said. “I’m grateful for all that the team has done to allow me to compete for the past two years.”

Contact Janani Natarajan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jrnatarajan.