Raam Tambe ’21, Tyler Vergho ’23 win 75th National Debate Tournament, Rex Copeland award

The victory marks Dartmouth’s first national tournament win since 1993.

by Caitlin McCarthy | 4/3/21 11:55am

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Tambe and Vergho are the College's first Rex Copeland recipients since 2002. 

Source: NDT

At the culmination of this year’s online season, Dartmouth debaters Raam Tambe ’21 and Tyler Vergho ’23 took home the gold at the 75th National Debate Tournament on March 30.

The victory — which marks the first time since 1993 that Dartmouth’s debate team, officially the Dartmouth Forensic Union, has won the tournament — brings Dartmouth debate even with Harvard University for the second most NDT wins of all time at seven wins. Northwestern University maintains the lead with 15 wins. 

The DFU has between 16 and 20 members, according to DFU director John Turner ’03. At the start of each debate season, the Cross Examination Debate Association announces a topic for which all teams must prepare evidence, also known as "cutting cards," and construct an “affirmative" argument that supports a proposition related to the topic. 

According to Turner, policy debaters are split into teams of two for multi-round competitions. Teams alternate between arguing “in the affirmative'' and “in the negative” — or in opposition to the affirmative’s proposition — for each debate round. After a number of preliminary rounds, teams that qualify move on to an elimination stage.

While the NDT had eight preliminary rounds, as is typically the case with college tournaments, this year saw some tournaments include only six rounds to accommodate teams competing in different time zones, Turner said. 

This year, Dartmouth sent three pairs of debaters to the NDT: Tambe and Vergho, Nicholas Mancini ’23 and Arvind Shankar ’23, and Madeline Gochee ’23 and Ali Safieddine ’22. All three teams reached the double-octo final rounds — where the remaining 32 teams compete — with “a very strong performance,” Turner said. 

He added that the NDT has a standing rule against qualifying more than two teams from each school, but he noted that an exception exists for at most six schools to qualify a third team if that team is particularly deserving. Turner pointed to Dartmouth’s team qualifying three pairs of debaters as indicative of the strength of this year's Dartmouth team.

This year’s debate resolution — the formal prompt which teams developed arguments for or against — was announced in July and asked whether or not the U.S. should reduce its alliance commitments with member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, Vergho said.

On March 25, Tambe and Vergho were also recipients of the Rex Copeland award, given to the team with the best seasonal performance, Vergho said. The victory marked the first time that a Dartmouth team has won the Rex Copeland award since 2002. Turner also won the James J. Unger Coaching Award, presented to the coach of the Rex Copeland award winners.

“Winning a single major tournament in college policy debate is an accomplishment in and of itself,” Turner said, remarking that this season, where Tambe and Vergho won “several of them over the course of the year,” will “go down in Dartmouth history.”

During the elimination rounds of the NDT, five judges moderated the debates and voted on a winning team. Tambe and Vergho won the final round of the NDT 5-0. 

When the result was announced, Vergho said that he was “in shock” because he and Tambe “were sure [they] had lost.”

The DFU alumni base was also actively following the team’s performance in the NDT and sharing messages of encouragement via email and social media, according to Turner.

“It’s a pretty close-knit community, and definitely a lot of people were very excited about us returning to top form,” Turner said. 

Last year, the NDT was canceled for the first time since it began in 1947 due to the pandemic, Turner said, and this year’s season was entirely online.

Despite the online format, the DFU was still able to start preparing for the upcoming season during the summer through a weekly reading group, followed by a pre-season practice period for the two weeks before fall term classes began. Although the team wasn’t able to meet in person, the group found ways to stay in touch through Discord and Zoom calls.

Vergho said that debating online this season went fairly smoothly, save for a few technical glitches and one tournament where “somebody’s fire alarm went off.”

“Part of what made debating this year so rewarding was the fact that the community was able to come together and create a solution like this, despite the challenges obviously posed by COVID,” Vergho said.

Tambe noted that the virtual format made it more difficult to “feel a room” such as noting the body language of the audience or how tense an event was.

He and Vergho won the tournament despite having never debated together in the same room, according to Tambe. Vergho estimates that over the past year, they have debated together about 90 times — all virtually.

Turner emphasized the amount of work that goes into preparing for tournaments, calling Tambe and Vergho “two of the hardest working debaters that I’ve ever coached.” He estimated that Tambe had been working “40 to 60 hours a week” for about two and a half months. 

For the two-week period leading up to the NDT after winter term classes ended, Tambe said he would often prepare “from 9 a.m. to midnight,” and described it as “like having a full time job.”

“[Tambe’s] set the leadership mold for the rest of this team going forward,” Turner said, adding that Vergho’s performance and the performance of the other sophomore and junior members of Dartmouth’s teams are a promising sign for the DFU’s future.

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