Dr. JW Patterson

May 9, 1928 – December 30, 2023

Dr. JW Patterson devoted his entire career to the instruction of students from all across the country in the field of speech, debate, and forensics. His career spanned sixty years, including nine years as Director of Debate & Forensics at Muskogee Central High School, Muskogee, Oklahoma; one year as Director of Debate at the University of Arizona, and forty years as Director of Debate & Forensics at the University of Kentucky.

Under his leadership, the UK debate program received 21 first-round bids to the National Debate Tournament and had six top speakers at the tournament, the second-highest number in the tournament’s history. His teams brought home a national championship in 1986, a runner-up in 2002 and a Copeland Award in 1994. Remarkably, the Patterson era included top 10 teams in four different decades.

It is fair to say that no one has had a bigger footprint on the world of speech and debate than Dr. JW Patterson. His legacy spans generations and has touched the lives of thousands of students and colleagues. Dr. Patterson was an elite debate coach, a passionate educator, and the brilliant architect of what would become the modern ecosystem of competitive debate in this country.

TOC Renaming

The University of Kentucky held its first-ever UK Debate Reunion on October 2123, 2023, bringing together graduates from the 1950s through the present day! The weekend-long event culminated in our announcement of the J.W. Patterson Tournament of Champions, named in honor of the TOC founder and 1971–2008 UK Debate Director.

Dr. J.W. Patterson conceived of the tournament, and its unique qualification process, as a forum for head-to-head competition among our nation’s top high-school debaters, evaluated by expert judges. Moreover, he aimed to support and expand regional participation, which ultimately gave rise to the national circuit we know today.

His singular vision, indomitable spirit, and lifelong service have helped shape the activity for over 50 years. We extend our deepest gratitude for Dr. Patterson's invaluable contributions to the Speech & Debate community, both in Kentucky and beyond!