Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Yale, Princeton Spar in Armonk

Yale and Princeton debaters were asked to travel in time to the period of Reconstruction, 1866, to address slavery reparations. Yale was represented by Sam Feinburg '18 (top, L) and Walker Mayer '18 (bottom, L).  Carolyn Liziewski (top, R) and Ben Ulene of Scarsdale represented Princeton. (YWAA photos)
Each year before the annual Westchester debate competition that pits Yale against other Ivy League squads, student participants arrive at the venue without any idea what the topic will be. They brace for any subject matter--from politics to history, from social issues to science.  They hope that experience, logic, swift thinking, quick wit and a rapport with judges will propel them to victory.

For this year's competition, Yale defended its Westchester title from a year ago and faced off against Princeton Nov. 6 in Armonk.  Now in its 18th year, the event was sponsored by YWAA, Princeton's alumni club in Westchester and Byram Hills High School, which also acted as host site. The event is funded in part by YWAA's Bill Nightingale '53 Fund, which honors Nightingale's long-time leadership in organizing, planning and executing the event.  

When the Yale and Princeton participants entered the building, little did they know they were about to address a controversial question, take sides, and present their views to an audience of Westchester residents, teachers, students and other Yale and Princeton alumni. They were asked to take a trip back into history, the U.S. just after the Civil War, 1866, during Reconstruction:  

Should newly freed slaves receive land grants from the U.S. Government (40 acres) as compensation for enslavement?

The Yale team of Sam Feinburg '18 and Walker Mayer '18 was asked to argue in favor. Princeton, which included Ben Ulene, a sophomore from Scarsdale, and Carolyn Liziewski, a sophomore from Portland, Me., was asked to argue against such legislation. 

Richard Bradley '86 returned as moderator and posed the question to the audience. With Walter Rivera, a Greenburgh Town Court justice, and Joshua Levin, a White Plains attorney, acting as judges, the debaters commenced, sparring back and forth for the next hour.  Rivera was a judge in last year's competition, when Yale defeated teams from Princeton and Brown. 

Event organizer Bill Nightingale '53 (top, L) was the evening's emcee. Greenburgh Town Court justice Walter Rivera (top, R) returned to judge the competition.  Richard Bradley '86 (bottom, L) returned as moderator. (YWAA photos)

Yale's Mayer, a Providence, R.I., native, launched the arguments for the evening. He stated freed slaves were entitled to land grants because of "trillions of dollars of compensation withheld." Liziewski from Princeton countered that the North couldn't "unilaterally blame the South" and the South couldn't be solely responsible for the injustices of the time.  She argued that the property granted to slaves would be seized eventually. She proposed other solutions:  voting rights, property protection, and education. 

Feinburg of Yale, who hails from London, rebutted and argued that freed slaves were entitled to some form of economic power and not "some limp appeasement" in the form of special programs recommended by Princeton.

Princeton's Ulene took his turn to argue that land grants would fail because they would rely on feeble Southern law enforcement to ensure property wouldn't be repossessed. He questioned how social mobility could be achieved from property gifts. 

Debaters on both sides, while at the podium, argued fiercely, loudly, vigorously. Judges Rivera and Levin listened closely, nodded when they understood points, and took many notes.  

No issue of such magnitude or impact could be resolved in an hour, yet judges were forced to render a final decision, a victor for the night.  After they deliberated, they pronounced Yale the winner and explained how both teams presented strong statements. But Yale edged its foe based on convincing arguments and a connection to and rapport with the judges.
Judges pronounced Yale the winner, but applauded the arguments and debating skills of both teams. (YWAA photos)
True to tradition, high-school teams took the stage next.  Six teams (two at a time) from Ardsley, Lincoln (Yonkers), Byram Hills (Armonk) (two teams), Rye Neck, and the French-American School competed. 

Like their collegiate counterparts, they, too, didn't know ahead of time the topics they would encounter. They, too, were required to prepare bullet-point arguments to questions that sometimes take lawmakers years to resolve, often in vague, watered-down solutions.  

High-school participants were asked to debate: 

(a) Should all forms of narcotic drugs be decriminalized?  
(b) Should the U.S. and its military force act as the protector and police force for all the world?
(c) Should the Federal Government enact legislation to require all states to pay a minimum wage of $15/hour?

Just like their college brethren, the high-school students marched one by one to the stage front to convince parents, classmates and judges their side was the right side.  

The Byram Hills team of Will Amorosana and Arjun Goyal (top) emerged as the high-school victors. High-school participants convened on the stage afterward to receive coaching and oratorical advice from the judges. (YWAA photos)
In the end, the judges picked one winner among the six teams. But first, they called forth all team members to coach them, showing them how to win over debate judges in the way a shrewd lawyer wins over a jury in court and telling them that how the argument is presented is as important as the logic and flow of statements. They advised them to pause and not rush or spew statements. 

Impressed with the conviction in which they spoke, they pronounced the Byram Hills team of Will Amorosana and Arjun Goyal the high-school winner.  The students and the school received prizes, funded in part from the Nightingale Fund.

Debate organizers included Princeton alumnus Martin Sklar and YWAA board members Nightingale and Susan Kaminsky '86.  

Harvard, a participant in the competition in previous years, was absent this year. With Yale and Princeton vying in a spirited discussion and shaking hands afterward, the Cantabs weren't missed.

Princeton's Ben Ulene of Scarsdale (top, L) presented his case. The Ardsley High School team prepared on the sidelines (top, R). Yale and Princeton debaters shared college stories beforehand (bottom, R). (YWAA photos)  

Ardsley High School debaters Gabriel Golombek and Joshua Nobel listened to opponents (top, L). Rye Neck High School's Olivia Dunne responded to arguments (top, R), (YWAA photos)

Bill Nightingale '53 (top), after the competition, praised college and high-school debaters for giving strong performances. Event organizers from Yale and Princeton (middle) gathered on the stage afterward. Richard Bradley '86 speaks to Yale winners WalkerMayer '18 and Sam Feinburg '18 (bottom, L). (YWAA photos)

Byram Hills High School participants prepare before the start of competition (top, L). Joshua Levin and Walter Rivera (bottom, R) judged both the high-school and college debates. (Zachary Milewicz photos)

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