Fifty years in the making—the George Mason University Debate Team has a legacy as a national powerhouse and at the core of their leadership is Warren Decker. During the 48 years that Decker led the team, they qualified for the national debate tournament 36 times, and for the last decade, they have ranked among the top two teams in the country.
Decker’s building of the Mason debate program took place over the same decades as the university, which celebrate its 50th Anniversary this year, itself came to prominence.
“Warren has directed and coached more debate students than any other college debate coach in the country—and changed the lives of countless students,” said College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Ann Ardis.
Mason alum Leonard Bennett, BS Finance ’89, JD ’94, was part of the Debate Team in the 1980s and recently returned to the Fairfax Campus to help honor Decker’s years of service during a retirement reception earlier this spring.
Bennett’s generous gift of $1 million will provide programmatic and scholarship support for the Debate Team, as well as create the “Warren D. Decker Professorship Endowment” to support the named coaching position Warren Decker Director of Debate. This fund will enable the department to recruit and retain top talent to help ensure Mason Debate’s excellence in coaching.
Bennett is the founding partner of Consumer Litigation Associates (CLA), a Virginia-based law firm empowering consumers nationwide to fight against predatory lending, credit discrimination, inaccurate credit reporting, identity theft, background check errors, and other consumer abuse. He has been a trial attorney and consumer advocate since 1994.
Bennett shared the magnitude of Decker’s achievement in building this debate program since the 1970s and how he has helped all students, from every background and demographic, from beginners to seasoned debaters, since his career began.
“The special skill Warren Decker has is to coach the span of debaters in this program—from the novice to the superstar—and make us all successful," said Bennett. "He taught us to be able to speak in front of and to all types of people, no matter who was in the room.”
This is a true testament to our core values at Mason. And the synergy created by this diverse team is manifested through their long-standing success and national recognition.
Bennett attributes this growth and longevity directly to Decker. "When I look at our team now, I see an incredible debate program. Warren is amazing because of his continued administrative instinct. He’s kept our team funded and organized for 48 years, which is not an easy feat.”
Then and now, Mason students’ experiences with the Debate Team help set them up for a lifetime of success, cultivating crucial skills and competencies that prepare them to be career-ready graduates.
Yet it was more than just the competitive success or educational growth that had an impact on the team. “Warren was an empathetic mentor who foremost always cared about the well-being and success of the hundreds of students under his leadership. He pushed us, taught us, and looked out for us.”
For Bennett, Decker, who was a professor in the Department of Communication, was a coach, mentor, and he is now honored to call him a friend. It is Bennett’s wish to ensure future generations of students will be able to benefit from this pivotal experience while also bolstering Decker’s legacy, and the team he built, to continue its placement as top in the nation.
Bennett would like his fellow debaters to remember they are all part of Decker’s legacy.
“If you’ve been part of Mason Debate, every person you help, you’re extending Warren’s legacy. Everything you do is an extension of Warren and honors his service.”
Bennett hopes other Mason Debate alums will join him in sharing back their experiences, with current students and each other: “Be sure to share what you’ve accomplished because of Mason Debate and join me in supporting this amazing program.”
He noted that what stands out about this group is a “love of debate, each other, and Mason, and this love was instilled in each of us through Warren Decker.”
Leonard Bennett was selected by the National Association of Consumer Advocates as Consumer Lawyer of the Year and led his firm to the National Law Journal’s Elite Trial Lawyer award for top financial services plaintiffs’ firm for multiple years, as well as the Virginia State Bar’s 2019 Top Pro Bono Law Firm. Bennett has served as a board member for a number of important organizations including the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Public Justice, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Hampton Roads Refugee Relief, and Youth Volunteer Corps of Hampton Roads. Bennett has litigated individual and class cases throughout the country, and was peer-selected to the Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyers, and the American College of Financial Services. CLA has locations in Newport News, Richmond, Alexandria, and Harrisonburg, Virginia. To learn more about his firm, visit www.clalegal.com.
Mason Debate was founded in 1974 and has been a core program fulfilling the university’s history of excellence within research and advocacy. The team has been consistently ranked in the top five programs in the country by the Cross Examination Debate Association, the American Debate Association, and the National Debate Tournament sweepstakes championships. Mason Debate is a co-curricular program housed within the Department of Communication at Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
To join Bennett in supporting the team, visit alumni.gmu.edu/22HSS11.
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