Dartmouth Forensic Union debaters Tyler Vergho ’23 and Arvind Shankar ’23 won the 76th National Debate Tournament on March 31, ending this year’s hybrid debate season. The victory marks Vergho’s second win in a row and the first back-to-back win in Dartmouth debate history, which began in the 1940s, according to DFU coach John Turner ’03.
In addition, the DFU is the third team ever to win the NDT in back-to-back years, Turner said. He added that the win brings up the DFU’s national collegiate ranking to second most all-time NDT wins.
“This win brought us to eight [wins and] broke a tie with Harvard [University], who’s at seven,” he said. “Northwestern [University] has the all-time lead with 14.”
Turner said he felt proud of the team’s effort and dedication for the past two years, even though these debate seasons were “significantly impacted” by COVID-19 –– with last year’s tournament season held entirely online, and this year’s tournament season held with a combined in-person and online format.
“This year we got the chance to go to a few in-person tournaments but competed online at a number of tournaments as well,” Turner said. “Through both years we had teams who were working incredibly hard to be at the top competitive level of intercollegiate policy debate, [which] takes many hours of work every week.”
Vergho said that the team faced setbacks due to a COVID-19 outbreak that occurred on the day before they were set to travel to James Madison University, where the tournament was held. Vergho said he had to compete virtually, while his partner, Shankar, attended the NDT in person.
“[We] entered that first day of the tournament not necessarily with the competitive outlook, [or] gearing up to win, that you otherwise might expect going into a national championship like this,” he said. “...It was kind of disappointing to miss out on [the in-person component], but I think part of that ultimately got channeled into how we competed and how we debated throughout the tournament.”
Turner explained that in the preliminary rounds of the season, teams debate both the “affirmative” and “negative” sides of the resolution — the topic that debaters research for the season; in the elimination rounds, a coin toss determines which side is argued. He also said that this year’s resolution asked whether or not the United States should expand antitrust laws.
“We’re entering a phase in which the largest tech companies –– Google, Amazon, Facebook –– have not been subjected to a lot of antitrust scrutiny, and that was part of the reason there’s a lot that has been written about that,” Turner said. “A number of Biden’s [officials] and appointees to the [Federal Trade Commission] have taken fairly aggressive policy positions on the expansion of antitrust laws into the new economy.”
Shankar said the debaters received the debate resolution in July, where they began “cutting cards,” or gathering evidence and counter-evidence for their argument.
“Typically when you’re doing affirmative research, you ‘cut,’ or put together cases that are subsets of the resolution,” Shankar said. “...On the negative [side], you look for different counter-proposals, which we call counter-plans, and you also look for disadvantages to doing antitrust policy generally.”
Turner said that this year the DFU had twelve students compete during the season, with Vergho, Shankar, Holland Bald ’25 and Gabe Chang-Deutsch ’25 qualifying for the NDT. Bald and Chang-Deutsch placed eleventh, according to Turner.
Vergho, who won the NDT with Raam Tambe ’21 last year, said he felt “shock” as well as pride for his team after this year’s NDT win with Shankar.
“Looking back on [the win] in the couple weeks since, I just [feel] appreciation for the historical moment –– not only for our success as a team this year, but also just generally [its significance to] all of the history of the Dartmouth debate program, and all of the Dartmouth teams that have competed for us,” he said.
Shankar said he also felt surprised when the judges announced that he and Vergho had won.
“I was honestly pretty shocked because I thought we were going to lose –– I didn’t feel too great about it, but I was really happy,” he said. “I’d been working [for] a long time for it, so it felt really good to finally win.”
Turner said he believes that the DFU has put themselves back on the “competitive map where we belong” in the last two years. While a win for the third year in a row has never been done before by any university, he said he feels confident that the DFU will have another promising season next year.
“Regardless of what combination of debaters come back, we’re going to have a strong team, and we’d like to be in a position to try and win the tournament again,” Turner said. “‘Third times the charm’ is asking [for] a lot that has never been done before, but it’s the type of program that can put together sustained success –– and that’s what we aim to achieve all the time.”
Kristin Chapman ’24 is an English major and Spanish minor from Rye, New York. She currently serves as the editor-in-chief and previously wrote and edited for the News section. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, running, hiking and doing yoga.