Published on May 21, 2024 by Diamond Nunnally  
Samford Debate NDT 2024
Samford Debate at the 2024 ADA National Debate Tournament. (Photograph Courtesy: Ryan Galloway)

Samford University's debate program just completed its best season to date. Ranked third in the nation by the American Debate Association (ADA) for the first time in program history, the team broke records and won numerous prestigious awards.   

While the team is ranked third overall, the junior varsity (JV) team finished first, marking Samford's highest achievement in this category. The students responsible for this unprecedented feat are juniors Mary Grace Hammond, Grace Scott, Sarah Chew, senior Madison Hackett, and freshman Laurel Pack. These ladies were a force to be reckoned with, winning consecutive second-place wins in the first half of the season and in the second half, winning first and second place at the Indiana University tournament, first place at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin tournament, and finishing as the top seed at the Mid-Atlantic Region District Tournament.  

Executive director of debate Ryan Galloway emphasized that this achievement marks the most tournaments won in a single season. He said, “The teamwork these four young women displayed was the secret to our success. They are probably the most cohesive unit I’ve ever seen, creating a spreadsheet of advanced scouting on their opponents, doing high-quality research, and coordinating feedback from coaches and judges. They operate more like a family than a debate team.” 

Varsity also put in work during the season competing against the top teams in the country. Joey Tarnowski '24 and junior TJ Riggs won the Wayne State Invitational and advanced to the triple-finals at the UT at Austin tournament. Along with Blackwell and Ford, the duo also qualified for the National Debate Tournament.  

Galloway said, “This is the fourth time Joey qualified for the National Debate Tournament, an extremely rare accomplishment. This is also the third time TJ qualified, and he is a junior. We are very proud of their dedication and commitment to the team.”  

The debaters were recognized individually for their performances throughout the season. Ford won Top Speaker at ADA Fall Nationals. Riggs won top speaker at the Wayne State Invitational. At the Indiana University tournament, Chew won top speaker, while Pack earned second place. Additionally, Pack won top speaker at the Mid-Atlantic Championship, with Hammond placing second.  

Reflecting on Novice and JV's success, Tarnowski said, "Seeing them do so much better than anyone could have possibly anticipated, winning national tournaments, winning top speaker awards at those national tournaments, and knowing I had a part in helping facilitate that, whether it was finding evidence, doing research for them, or helping coach them before important rounds, has been my biggest accomplishment." 

Tarnowski was honored as a finalist for the ADA's Julia Burke Character & Excellence Award, acknowledging his outstanding moral character and competitive excellence. Nominated by his peers, Tarnowski felt this recognition validated all the hard work he had put in over the past four years. 

He said, "It left an impression on me that the hard work you do, even if you don't see its impacts directly, is felt and recognized." 

"Joey exhibits everything great about Samford University and debate," Galloway said. "He is a giving, kind, excellent teammate and wonderful squad leader."  

Dedicating 19 years of his life to coaching and mentoring generations of Samford debaters, Galloway was also honored with the ADA Excellence in Coaching Award.  

"It is humbling and an honor," he said. "It is arguably the greatest award I’ve won in my life. My students have had an exceptional few years competitively, winning the novice national championship, winning the top speaker at novice nationals, qualifying for the National Debate Tournament numerous times, and being the third-ranked squad in the country this year. More important than their awards, my students interact with others with kindness, calm, and maturity. My students represent both me and, more importantly, the university quite well. I frequently have other coaches ask, 'How do we do it?' And the answer is found in the great students at Samford and the support we receive from the administration. I am humbled and honored to work here every day. The coaching award is a validation of the effort that the team has put toward the admittedly unusual world that is college debate," he continued.  

The team wrapped up the season at the National Debate Tournament held at Emory University April 4-8. Tarnowski and Riggs defeated teams from Indiana University, Baylor University, New York University, and the University of Texas before losing an incredibly close debate against Harvard University.   

Grace Blackwell and Ella Ford also competed in the National Debate Tournament. The duo started debate as novices and won major victories against California State University, Fullerton and Missouri State University. They were only the second female team from Samford to qualify for the National Debate Tournament, also making them the most successful woman partnership in program history.  

"We are very proud of our team, and particularly Joey, who closes his career as one of the most successful debaters in Samford Debate history," Galloway said.  

“This is one of the most gifted and inspirational debate teams I have worked with in my seventeen years in the activity,” Quinn said. “I cannot wait to see what amazing things they all accomplish after graduation.” 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.