The UR Debate Union has its roots in the early days of the University it was founded the day before the school was even created in 1850. More than 150 years later, the team is thriving, complete with new coaches, members and victories.

‘One major accomplishment we’ve had is winning the University of Vermont Tournament,” publicity manager and sophomore Nicholas Stevens. The club brought about 40 debaters to the Vermont, the largest group they’ve ever taken to a tournament.
The club has grown this year, as they were actually able to retain the crowd that packed the room at this year’s General Interest meeting. More members and new coaches have helped the team’s success.

Along with head coach Ken Johnson and assistant Gordy Miller, two others have joined the coaching staff: Chris Lattuca and Buddy Khan, who is an alumnus of the University. With their help, the team is currently in the top 10 in the Northeast and top 20 nationally. Johnson has confidence that if the club continues to gain new members, they could be in the top 10 teams in the nation.

In addition, members have also won numerous Speaker Awards which are given to individuals at a tournament and have had many other close finishes.

But what really makes the club different from other universities’ teams is their inclusive nature. Teams at other schools require that members have had a great deal of experience in high school on a debate team.

‘We take anyone,” Johnson said. ‘We train those who are afraid to speak in front of others and prepare them to debate against the blue chip debaters at other universities. It is a unique opportunity here.” Being able to compete with such exclusive teams at other schools is a great accomplishment for those who are just starting out.

As a result, the team is always looking for new members to help them retain their position and even climb the ladder nationally. Apart from trips to other schools and the benefit of another club on one’s resume, the experience offers long-lasting benefits.

‘It helps one gain confidence in public speaking, think critically and to speak persuasively,” Stevens said. ‘You learn to promote your point and yourself once you learn the style of argument.”

Alumni of the club have gone on to work on Wall Street and become lawyers, but the club attracts a wide array of majors, including science majors as well as political science and engineering majors.

The team competes in two different styles of debate, policy and worlds. The policy section, in teams of two, argues either for or against a resolution. The resolution is chosen for the entire season, and this year it deals with the question of whether or not the United States should reduce and restrict the role of its nuclear weapons arsenal. The Debate office is filled with boxes of evidence the policy team has prepared, as their argument is pre-arranged.

The worlds, or parliamentary, team is composed of four teams of two, but the topic of the argument is not decided until about 15 minutes prior to the debate occurs. As a result, these debaters must stay up to date on current events, educate themselves on a range of issues and be ready to think on their feet.

The Debate Union competes in about 10 to 12 tournaments a year, concluding in the spring at Championships. Over winter break, they’ll be traveling to Texas.

The team meets twice a week- Monday and Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the Debate Office in Morey 100, and anyone is welcome to attend and get involved.

Bagley is a member of the class of 2012.

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