The Tulane University Debate Team on Sunday at NPDA Nationals. Left to right: Alexander Parini ’18, Ben Ozur ’18, James Capuzzi ’17, Sina Mansouri ’17, Khristyan Trejo ’19, Michelle Daker ’17, and Claire Kueffner ’18. (Not pictured: Elise Matton ’14)

The Tulane University Debate Team reached the quarterfinals of the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) National Championships last Sunday at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The partnership of Claire Kueffner ’18 and Khristyan Trejo ’19 finished in the top eight of the title tournament, besting more than 125 rival teams from more than forty schools across the country.

After 8 preliminary rounds of competition, Tulane KT broke to partial-double-octofinals (52 teams) with a 5-3 record. Their preliminary run included an opening round win over the 15th ranked partnership in the nation, a team who had just made the quarterfinals of the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) the prior weekend. Tulane KT entered the single-elimination playoff as the 37th seed. They proceed to knock off #28 Utah HH (#7 in the season rankings), #5 Berkeley GY, and #13 Washburn PH in three consecutive elimination rounds on Saturday night and Sunday morning. They were finally eliminated by #4 Washburn BS (#6 in the season rankings), a team that went on to win semifinals and share the National Championship with other teammates from Washburn.

This was the first time Tulane won an elimination round at NPDA Nationals at only the second NPDA Nationals the team has attended. Trejo and Alexander Parini ’18 made the double-octofinals last year, losing that round to Nevada. Trejo was the top novice speaker at that event.

This year, Parini attended the tournament with Ben Ozur ’18. Seniors James Capuzzi ’17 and Michelle Daker ’17, the team’s President and Vice President, also competed. The combined results for the three pairings gave Tulane overall a twentieth ranking in the tournament’s sweepstakes.

Not only is the quarterfinal finish an amazing result for a team competing in its second NPDA Nationals, the top eight finish placed Tulane among several elite teams at this culminating event. The seven other teams in quarterfinals were all ranked in the top twenty in the season-long rankings; Tulane KT was ranked 456th. The other teams were ranked #1, #2, #3, #6, #10, #14, and #19.

Full tournament results can be viewed here.

Tulane has been competing in both NPDA and the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) this year, two national leagues of parliamentary debate with some stylistic differences. The school as a whole finished the NPDA season ranked 47th on the NPDA circuit out of 179 schools. The school is ranked 26th on APDA. Tulane will finish the debate season this year with trips to the William & Mary APDA tournament and the APDA National Championship at Rutgers University.


Tulane University has only had a debate team for six years, at least in its modern incarnation. The team has a website, but in one of those administrative confusions that seems universal to college campuses, we’ve been locked out of the ability to update it. And while there’s a lot on Facebook and in various places about how this past weekend happened and felt, I felt compelled to put a little write-up here for posterity as well, since this has been such a big part of my life so far in 2017.

Alex and I have been coaching the Tulane team for almost two years, invited to help late in the year prior by their then-coach, Andrew Bergman, a Pitt (APDA) dino who graduated from Tulane Law last spring. Last year, we volunteered and this year we are receiving a nominal stipend for our time, which largely consists of coming to two out of three weekly practices and the occasional tournament, plus generally trying to support the tournaments we don’t attend as much as possible. We’ve also been offering logistical help to their hosting of tournaments and navigating various debate leagues. The team started out competing in IPDA, then went to NPDA, and now sits at a crossroads between NPDA and APDA where it’s finding success in both formats.

I did not travel to Colorado with the team for this tournament, a decision I quickly came to regret as the successes piled up and our pre-round calls became increasingly excited and frantic. But in some ways, it was still a perfect tournament, even to be appreciated from afar. Below, I’m including my public thank you to the team who went (and Alex), as I posted on Facebook yesterday…


Y’all, please allow me to give some individual thanks in a public venue to a team that did something really incredible this weekend…

Sina Mansouri, it has been a real pleasure to work with you this year and observe your intense dedication to fostering this team and ensuring Tulane’s debate legacy continues to grow. I’m so glad you got to be on the ground this weekend to coach and be a part of this incredible accomplishment for the team you helped start.

Alexander Parini & Ben Ozur, I know this weekend didn’t go as well as you’d hoped for y’all individually, but I know you met your challenges with resilience and high spirits. I can’t wait to work with you on APDA next month and everything next year as we build toward what I think will be Tulane debate’s finest hour yet.

Michelle Daker & James Capuzzi, I am so glad you won your last NPDA round ever and that this weekend proved to be a holistically good experience for y’all. This accomplishment is a testament to your leadership this year and I appreciate all the time and hard work you’ve put into the team. I am so excited to see how y’all do in our upcoming April marathon swing through the mid-Atlantic!

Alex Jubb, I still maintain that you had the single best suggestion for every single round from the bubble through quarters. You have been an amazing coach for this team, even when they’re competing in a style that we’re both still learning. As sad as I was to not be in Colorado this weekend, it was a joy to share the vicarious excitement with you here in New Orleans.

Elise Matton, I don’t think this could have happened this weekend without your presence. When Alex first told me she’d met someone who went to my high school, was in her TFA cohort, and had founded the Tulane debate team, I couldn’t believe it, but I knew you would immediately be a person I shared a real connection with. I am so glad that you were able to lend your expertise and wisdom to the team this weekend, that you were the team’s leader throughout, and that you got to see firsthand the results of your creation.

Finally, of course, Khristyan Trejo & Claire Kueffner, I am simply in awe of y’all. I am still coming to terms with the magnitude of what you accomplished, for a partnership ranked 456th in the season standings to finish in the top 8 at Nationals among teams all ranked in the top 20, for a total outsider student-run team to crash a party reserved for teams that fly every weekend on the school’s dime with mammoth professional coaching staffs and scholarships. And that you did it your way, talking about what you feel is most important, *convincing* people that it *is* most important, makes it all the more special. You are the change we want to see in the world. Thank you.