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Cardozo students prepare for debate tourney finals

Students from Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside were set to go head-to-head, or rather brain-to-brain, with a team from Bronx Science this week in the final round of the JPMorgan Chase Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

The event, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is public education’s most elite debate competition, according to Lee Karlin, Cardozo’s debate coach. The debate was scheduled for Wednesday.

The contest is named after the 1858 Illinois Senate debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, and offers $4,000 prizes to each student on the winning team and $2,000 to the second-place winners.

“I just go with the intention (that) we’re winning,” said Karlin, who has taught debate for 13 years. Cardozo was the city champion in 1990, 1992 and 1998.

High school students from all over the city spend several months researching a dense topic in public policy and debating against opposing schools until there are just two teams left standing at the experienced and inexperienced levels.

This year Bronx Science beat traditional powerhouse Stuyvesant to face Cardozo in the final round, held at Baruch College in Manhattan.

This year’s debate resolution was: “Resolved, that the United States should be under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”  Cardozo seniors Pooja Raju, Larry Chang and Anna Mandel, along with junior alternate Mariam Magar, had been meeting at 6:30 a.m. nearly every day since February to practice their arguments, cross examination and rebuttals.

“Knowledge is power. I want us to be the more expert team,” said Karlin.

The students were not to know which side they would have to argue until a coin toss, so they had to be prepared.

“No matter what you think, you have to make both the negative argument and the affirmative argument,” said Mandel, who is headed to Yale University in the fall.

Mandel said she was “pretty nervous” about the competition, but Chang said, “I’m not worried at all.”

Chang, who plans to go to SUNY Stony Brook, said debating had improved his persuasion skills.

“You don’t just blurt things out,” he said.

Raju, who will attend SUNY Binghamton, said debating would enhance her presentation skills for a future law career, and Magar, who also wants to go to law school, said “It’s really fun.”

Besides, Mandel added, learning how to argue intelligently “is good with parents.”

Karlin said his team was composed of “your nicest, your best and your brightest,” and expressed pride in their achievement.

“They’re all winners because it’s such a hard thing just making it there,” said Karlin.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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