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TU Debate Team becomes first black female pair to win national championship

CEDA National Debate Champions holding championship cup Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson with Towson University debate team coaches Ignacio Evans, left and Amber Kelsie, right.

CEDA National Debate Champions holding championship cup Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson with Towson University debate team coaches Ignacio Evans, left and Amber Kelsie, right.

Towson University Debate Team members Ameena Ruffin ‘15 and Korey Johnson ’16 made history at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national championship Monday night.

“Ruffin and Johnson are the first African-American women’s team to win a national tournament,” said Mike Davis, president of the Cross Examination Debate Association. In a sense, it’s a double record. “No [individual] African-American woman has ever won our tournament before,” Davis confirmed.

The Towson team beat Oklahoma in the final round to claim the national title. The competition featured teams from elite schools including Harvard, Trinity, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Wayne State, Cal State Fullerton, Florida, Bard College, Pepperdine, Sacramento State, Vanderbilt, NYU and others.

Ruffin and Johnson also earned a first-round bid to the 2014 National Debate Tournament, an invitation-only national championship for collegiate policy debate in the United States. The distinction designates them as one of the top 16 teams in the country.

“We are thrilled and very proud of Ameena and Korey on this amazing accomplishment,” said Towson Universeity College of Fine Arts and Communication Dean Susan Picinich.  “Their historic success is exemplified by their passion, dedication and commitment to the art of debate, and the leadership of Towson University’s debate coaching staff, Amber Kelsie and Ignacio Evans.”

 Preparation for the debate was demanding. “It requires a tremendous amount of work,” said Johnson. “I’m sure I do about four or five hours of preparation and practicing on a normal day.”  

All of this top-level competition has honed the students’ skills.  “I think we’ve improved by learning what type of debaters we are, and playing to our strengths,” Johnson continued. “I have learned to do tremendous amounts of work while still taking care of myself and not stressing out too much.”

Founded in 1971 as the Southwest Cross Examination Debate Association, CEDA is the primary national association promoting intercollegiate academic debate on policy topics. In cooperation with the National Debate Tournament Committee and the American Debate Association, CEDA formulates the annual intercollegiate policy debate topic used in tournament competition throughout the nation, and acts as a tournament sanctioning agent.  Throughout the tournament season, CEDA calculates the National Sweepstakes Standings, which ranks member institutions based on compiled tournament results both regionally and nationally.  The association hosts an annual National Championship Tournament that brings together more than 170 individual debate teams to determine the best in the country.

Next, Ruffin and Johnson will join teams from Cal-Berkeley, Georgetown, Harvard, Kansas, Mary Washington, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Rutgers, Wake Forest and West Georgia at the National Debate Tournament in Bloomington, Ind., March 28 through April 1. 

It is also worth noting that the first African American team to win a CEDA national championship tournament also came from Towson University. Deven Cooper, currently director of debate at Fresno State University, and Dayvon Love became the first African American male team CEDA national champions in 2008.

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