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Debate team ranked highest in nation

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Section: News

October 28, 2011

The Brandeis Academic Debate and Speech Society (BADASS) currently boasts the best team of the year and the second best club of the year after Yale University.

Keith Barry ’13 and Russell Leibowitz ’14 won the tournament at Harvard this semester, marking Brandeis’ second consecutive win against Harvard. Barry and Leibowitz have won tournaments at Syracuse and Harvard this year, and placed as finalists at Vassar. Following their win at Harvard, Barry and Leibowitz became the highest ranked team in the nation.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that Russell and I are the number one debate team in the country,” said Barry. “To know that there is literally not a single team that is better at debate than us feels pretty great. It feels especially good because, unlike most debaters, I had no success at all my first novice year of debate and really struggled to get good.”

The debate team at Brandeis is part of the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), an entirely student-run organization that hosts about 40 tournaments per year as well as a national championship. Students debate from both private and public universities, located primarily along the east coast. In addition to the national tournament, there is also an annual world debating championship.

Brian Schon ’06, Heller MPP ’10, competed on the debate team and attended the world debating championship in Malaysia. Last year Brandeis sent several of its students to Botswana to debate and observe the prestigious tournament.

Barry described the World Championship in Botswana as an “amazing experience” where he and other Brandeis attendees were able to meet students from around the world and represent Brandeis at one of the most prestigious debating events of the year.

“It’s nice to be able to look at the rankings after having debated every weekend for the past year and say that a Brandeis team is the top-ranked team,” said Leibowitz. “That’s never happened before.”

While some members of the debate team have previous experience from high school debate clubs, many members, including Leibowitz and Barry, had no prior debate experience before coming to Brandeis. Barry joined the debate team in the middle of his first year and Leibowitz joined at the beginning of his first year. After only a year for Leibowitz and two years for Barry, the duo hold a highly sought after national title.

“Joining the debate team was something I really wanted to do,” said Leibowitz. “I like to talk about politics and debate gave me an outlet to do that every weekend. There’s so much I like about the team. Every weekend we get to travel around the country and meet new people. The whole debate circuit is like a second family.”

The debate team holds practice rounds twice a week, where members come to hone their debating skills and practice for weekend competitions. While members can choose their level of involvement in the club, Barry and Leibowitz practice between five and six times per week to keep themselves sharp and ready to compete.

“During the final round [at Harvard],” Leibowitz began, “after waiting for the results, we were on edge. I couldn’t even sit down. When the judges read the results, it was a 4-3 decision. Keith and I jumped up and hugged each other. It was exhilarating.”

BADASS generally has an even number of club members from all years; however, this year there is an unusually large group of first-years, giving Brandeis an edge at novice tournaments. “This year we had a lot more aggressive recruiting,” said Leibowitz. “We put out flyers and held a demonstration round about gay rights. A lot of people enjoyed it.” Leibowitz continued to say that the first meeting of the year had more than 50 people in attendance and the debate team currently has more first-years than sophomores, juniors and seniors combined.

Following graduation, Barry, like many debaters, hopes to attend law school. Leibowitz plans to run for political office and to attend graduate school for public policy. Leibowitz is currently the Campaign Affairs Coordinator and serves on the Executive Board for Brandeis’ Democrats club.

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