On Tuesday, October 25th, the Oklahoma debate community lost a powerful voice for debate education. Gregg Hartney, 66, Tulsa Debate League’s program manager, was killed in a car accident near Mannford, Oklahoma. Gregg dedicated over 50 years of his life to speech and debate as a competitor, coach, and leader. He taught in Texas, Charles Page (Sand Springs), and most recently Jenks, where he retired to join the Tulsa Debate League as its program manager is 2015. Gregg was critical to the early development of the high school program and shifted his focus to building middle school programs across Tulsa in 2016-2017.
Gregg’s memorial service took place at the Jenks Performing Arts Center at Jenks High School. The auditorium was filled with hundreds of former students, parents of students, and family and friends whose lives Gregg had impacted. Shawn Watts, a 1996 graduate of Charles Page and a student of Gregg’s, told his story about a Native American child who grew up in poverty with significant challenges in and outside of the classroom, but who found his voice and passion in debate. Gregg saw potential in Shawn and helped him become not only a great debater, but also a successful student and adult. Choking back tears, Shawn said that Gregg was the single most important figure in his life. Today, Shawn is a law professor at Columbia University. He teaches and speaks about issues affecting indigenous communities around the world. He left that day to speak in front of the United Nations.
Gregg leaves behind a loving wife, Kathryn Hartney, and two daughters, Hannah Hartney, and Leah Hartney, who were the true joys of his life. While he left us too soon, his legacy lives on in the lives of students he touched and the progress that he made in expanding educational opportunity with the Tulsa Debate League. Every year, Gregg gave this advice to his students at his debate squad’s end-of-year banquet: “Leave the world a little bit better than you found it.” There is no better testament to the mission of the Tulsa Debate League than these words, and there are few who exemplified them better than Gregg Hartney.