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ACU debate team ranked #2 nationally for 2021-22


Members of the ACU debate team with their season-long awards.

On the heels of hosting the International Public Debate Association National Championship Tournament on campus April 8-11, the Abilene Christian University debate team concluded its 2021-22 season ranked second overall in the nation, with a third-place finish in the tournament.

More than 170 colleges and universities participate in IPDA, and ACU’s season-long record ranks it second among that group, which includes SMU, TCU, Mississippi State University, University of Florida, Boise State, University of Arkansas, University of Central Florida and Louisiana State University. ACU’s team has won more than 100 individual debate and speaker awards this season, in addition to 22 sweepstakes. IPDA competitors are divided into four divisions: Novice, JV, Varsity and Professional. ACU took first place for the season in the JV and Professional divisions and won first place for team debating. 

Individual awards for the 2021-22 season include:

  • Ethan Arbuckle, graduate student in communication – first-place overall (Professional) and third place speaker (Professional)
  • Matt Ritchie, ACU alumnus and Abilene attorney – second place in speaker (Professional) and third place overall (Professional) 
  • Alexandria Ritchie, graduate student in communication – fifth place overall (Professional) 
  • Emma Jaax, sophomore accounting major from Boerne – second place team, third place overall (Varsity), fourth place team speaker, fifth place speaker (Varsity)
  • Bryson Frank, sophomore political science major from Plano – fourth place speaker (JV)
  • Nathan Marshall, junior financial management major from Whitewright – second place team
  • Elijah Biedinger, senior management major from San Antonio – fourth place team
  • Thomas Sorensen, junior management major from Lewisville  – second place team speaker, fourth place team

ACU’s debate team comprises 21 students, representing a variety of majors, including communication, communication disorders, journalism, accounting, criminal justice and financial management. 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. 

“Even two decades before the initial ACU debate team, the first debating societies at Abilene Christian were started and included both men and women, and were required of all students. At the very beginning of our university’s existence, the skills of reason, civility and rhetorical excellence were already highly valued and strongly encouraged,” said Sheila Ritchie, director of forensics and debate and associate college professor of communication. “As I look back on the legacy of ACU debate, I am proud that we can continue to carry this torch of excellence by preparing students to be outstanding debaters and even better people.”

Last year, Ritchie was awarded the Bennett Strange Coach of the Year, only the second woman to win the award in its history. 

This is the 25th year of the IPDA organization, and this year’s tournament at ACU was the first in-person national competition since 2019 and the largest gathering in its history with 45 schools and 330 competitors. According to the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau, the economic impact of the tournament for Abilene was $355,800.

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

— Wendy Kilmer

April 21, 2022

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