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ACU debate team ranked 4th in the nation


2020-21 Debate Team

The Abilene Christian University debate team finished the 2020-21 season ranked fourth in the nation. The team also placed fourth in the International Public Debate Association National Championship Tournament this month.

“By all accounts and records that I can find, they just completed the best debate and forensics season for ACU in almost 40 years,” said Sheila Ritchie, director of forensics and debate, and college associate professor of communication.

More than 150 schools participate in IPDA, and ACU’s season-long record earned them fourth place nationwide. The team won 68 individual debate and speaker awards, in addition to six sweepstakes.

The 2021 IPDA National Championship culminated the debate tournament season with a virtual competition April 9-11 that included more than 325 competitors from 62 schools and 26 states. ACU’s team earned the fourth place Scholastic Award Sweepstakes (undergraduate competitors in individual debate) and fifth place Overall Sweepstakes (all events). In addition, Ritchie was awarded the Bennett Strange Coach of the Year, only the second female to win the award in its history.


Sheila Ritchie was named Coach of the Year by IPDA.

Ritchie’s team comprises 12 students, nine of whom are freshmen. They represent a variety of majors, including journalism, accounting, criminal justice and financial management.

“The high-pressure competitive environment has sharpened my persuasion skills,” said Emma Jaax, freshman accounting major from Boerne. “But most importantly, debate has been a great place to learn about the importance of character and peer respect.”

Abilene Christian students have competed in debate and forensics competitions for more than nine decades. Dr. Don H. Morris, who later became ACU’s seventh president, was the first debate coach in 1928.

“Many distinguished attorneys, professors, ministers and politicians distinguished themselves as debaters at ACU,” Ritchie said. “They were successful in competition, just as our team has been, but more importantly, they learned skills and built character that carried with them after they left ACU. This legacy is far more important than any trophy. It is what sets us apart and allows us to truly uphold the mission of ACU – to educate students for Christian leadership and service throughout the world.”

ACU won the bid to host the next IPDA National Championship scheduled for April 2022.

Learn more about the debate and forensics program at ACU.  To contribute to scholarships for the ACU Debate team, contact Ritchie at

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