A legacy of winning: Mason Debate celebrates its long-time director

by Anne Reynolds

A legacy of winning: Mason Debate celebrates its long-time director
Dean Ann Ardis, Warren Decker, and Leonard (Len) Bennett, BA Finance ’89, JD ’94

As George Mason University launched the celebration of its 50th anniversary as an independent institution, one of its most successful teams celebrated the career of its coach—a career that spans nearly as long. 

Warren Decker, director of Mason’s debate program, joined the Department of Communication in 1976, in a year in which the fledgling program included only one student who had ever been to a tournament. “I came to Mason when it was still in its infancy, and it was a neat place to be,” recalled Decker. “There were no other state universities in the area, so it was a great place for a debate program.” 

By 1979, Mason sent its first team to the National Debate Tournament, and the success of the team has grown ever since. During Decker’s nearly fifty years of tenure as director, the team has become one of the most successful debate programs in the country, boasting top spots in the American Debate Association, Cross Examination Debate Association, and National Debate Tournament ranking championships. 

On April 8, during the week that Mason kicked off the celebration of its first 50 years, the group invited team members and alumni to a reception in Decker’s honor. 

During the reception, CHSS dean Ann Ardis lauded the team’s success. “Under Warren’s direction, Mason Debate has qualified to attend the National Debate Tournament 36 times and has ranked in the top two teams in the country for the last decade,” she said. “Warren has directed and coached more debate students than any other college debate coach in the country—and changed the lives of countless students.” 

The reception brought together debate team members and alumni, and colleagues from the Department of Communication, to celebrate the contributions that Decker made to the team and to Mason. The many tributes included those from Jackie Poapst, assistant director of debate; debate team captains; and debate team alumni Burton Gray, BA Economics and English ’95; Leonard (Len) Bennett, BA Finance ’89, JD ’94; Laura Tuell, BA Government and Politics ‘91; Alan Stewart, BA International Studies ‘91, MA International Transactions ‘97; and Stephen Karbelk, BA History ’92. 

Dean Ardis joined in offering a toast to Decker, noting the enthusiasm with which his students and former students gathered to celebrate him, and remarking on their great generosity. Ardis announced donations to the Debate Team Endowment in Decker’s name, an expansion of the Burton and Yardley Gray Debate Student Scholarship Fund, and a leadership gift from Leonard Bennett that endows the position of Debate Team Director as the Warren D. Decker Professorship Endowment. 

The support of these team members, past and present, allows Decker to leave behind a legacy of continued growth and learning for his students: a true legacy of winning.