Anthony Spagnolo

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Member of UVM debate team

Anthony Spagnolo

Natale's first taste of international debate came in late 2008. That fall, as classes were starting, he walked into Professor Alfred Snider's office and was greeted with an invitation to go on a debate world tour. While the full tour didn't materialize, Natale and a handful of other UVM students wound up debating in Slovenia, Malaysia, Ireland and Thailand. At an event in Malaysia, he competed in front of the country's crown prince.

Over the past two years globe-trotting UVM debaters have crisscrossed the world. In one nine-month period, the debate team racked up enough miles to go to the moon and back. They've taught the finer points of disagreement in countries where open debate until recently was barely tolerated.

"When you're talking about Kosovo with Serbians," Natale said, "that's a different experience."

The guiding force behind these world travels is a 59-year-old, high-energy iconoclast and debate evangelist, Alfred "Tuna" Snider, the Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics at UVM.

Snider first traveled overseas to promote debating in 1995, when he visited Serbia, then under the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Snider recalled Serbian students surrounding thugs sent to disrupt the debate, and chasing them away with chants of "No violence!"

"It was a fabulous moment," he said. He has since taught debate in more than two dozen countries, and hosts the World Debate Institute, an annual debate camp at UVM.

The UVM debate team has steadily climbed the world rankings among university debate teams. Currently they are 118th with three years of results, while many schools are ranked based on points earned for five years. Snider predicts the team will reach around 60th within two years.

"People know that in any individual debate, we can go toe to toe with the best people out there," Natale said.

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