York/Osgoode debaters host North American Championships

Emmett Soldati, Sarah Sahagian and Brent KettlesThe York Debating Society (YDS) will celebrate its 25th anniversary next week with a special event – the annual North American Debating Championships, which it will co-host with York’s Osgoode Debate Society Jan. 29 to 31. It’s the first time the continental final for member schools of the American Parliamentary Debate Association and the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate (CUSID) has been held at York.

Left: From left, York debaters Emmett Soldati, Sarah Sahagian and Brent Kettles

The event, which will include the top Ivy League schools from the northeastern United States and schools from further afield such as Stanford University and the University of Chicago, will be held at the Keele campus.

Emmett Soldati, a fourth-year anthropology student and past president of the YDS, says the three-day competition will be “intense” but includes social events such as a formal banquet and comedy show. “For a while now, the people coming to this have been reading The New York Times, The Economist and listening to the BBC for at least two hours a day to prepare,” says Soldati, who is also a student representative on the York Board of Governors.

Soldati and debating partner Sarah Sahagian were finalists in CUSID’s British Parliamentary Championships held at the University of British Columbia in December. Soldati and partner Jeremy Larkins reached the novice finals of the North American Championships in 2007-2008.

Rudi LofLeft: Rudi Lof

Among the organizers are veteran Osgoode debaters Brent Kettles, who is also CUSID’s treasurer, and Rudi Lof, who won the top speaker’s award in the highly competitive Hart House Invitational in October 2009, where the pair advanced to the semifinals. The two were also semifinalists in this season’s British Parliamentary Championship in Vancouver. Lof, the tournament director for this weekend’s “norams” as they are called, is a past president of the YDS and in his final year of the Schulich-Osgoode joint MBA/JD program. Kettles, a student at Osgoode, is serving as assistant adjudicator to Aaron Rousseau of Lang Michener LLP, a former member of the debating society at the University of Toronto. One American judge will also be a member of the adjudication team.

The event begins Friday with two rounds of debate, but the action heats up on Saturday as teams work their way through another four rounds before taking a rest to don their formal attire for a banquet at the Underground in the Student Centre. Competitors will keep a lid on their partying until the announcement of which teams have advanced to Sunday’s elimination round. “Those that made it will go home to rest and those that didn’t will probably keep on partying,” Soldati says.

The semifinals and novice finals will be held on Sunday afternoon, with the finals set for Osgoode’s Moot Court at 3pm, followed by an awards ceremony.

With most of the top debating schools in North America entered, the championship will give organizers a chance to showcase Canada’s third-largest university to competitors and the media. York has a considerable reputation on the debating circuit, hosting the Central Canadian Junior Championship in 2007 and the National Championships in 2000-2001 and 1993-1994. The French National Championships were held at Glendon for many years in the 1990s.

York also hosts a well-organized high school tournament each year and, in 2008, played host to a junior high school tournament.

The North American Debating Championship is the premier parliamentary debating championship in North America, sanctioned by the national university debating associations in the US and Canada, the American Parliamentary Debate Association and the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate. It has been held on an alternating basis between the US and Canada since 1991.

Debate success by York teams

World Championships

  • 1996-1997: Paul Ciufo and Vijay Sarma were semifinalists, in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
  • 1994-1995: Paul Ciufo (voted top public speaker) and Lawrence Rabie were quarter-finalists in Princeton, NJ. Peter Balasubramanian and Angela Musso were double-octo finalists.
  • 1980-1981: An unknown York team were semi-finalists in Glasgow, Scotland.

CUSID British Parliamentary Championships

  • 2008-2009: Rudi Lof and Brian Kettles were semifinalists.

CUSID National Championships

  • 2003-2004: Emily Cohen & Omar Fairclough, winners

CUSID Central Canadian Championships

  • 1998-1999: David Zic & Sanjay Patil, finalists, Zic was top speaker
  • 1994-1995: Lawrence Rabie and Angela Musso, finalists
  • 1993-1994: Lawrence Rabie and Paul Ciufo, winners
  • 1992-1993: Paul Cuifo and Lawrence Rabie, finalists

CUSID Central Canadian Novice Championships

  • 2000-2001: Emily Cohen & Rahul Gupta, winners, Cohen was top speaker
  • 1997-1998: Aaron Lewis, top speaker
  • 1996-1997: David Zic and Jane Haddad, finalists

For more information visit the York Debating Society Web site.