About the Spong Tournament

"Those attitudes decide whether your life is a venture or a retreat. I urge you to opt for the venture. A retreat is only a self-delusion. Government is not an impersonal institution which sits in Washington and disperses favors, either to those who clamor or those who wait patiently. It is you."Senator Spong, speaking in 1968 at Commencement exercises at Hampden-Sydney College.  


By Brendan W. Clark ’24

The William B. Spong Moot Court Tournament is William & Mary Law School’s signature invitational moot court tournament that brings together top-ranked schools and judges from across the nation to debate current constitutional issues. The first invitational tournament was held in 1972 and rapidly became one of the leading moot court tournaments in the mid-Atlantic region, regularly drawing attendees from law schools across the United States.

The Spong Tournament is named for William B. Spong, Jr., an esteemed jurist, politician, and former Dean of William & Mary Law School from 1976 to 1985. Dean Spong ranks among Virginia's most honored and capable statesmen, educators, and advocates. Spong studied at Hampden-Sydney College before receiving his LL.B. from the University of Virginia in 1947. After being admitted to the bar, Spong pursued post-graduate studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Returning to the United States, he accepted a lecture post at the College of William & Mary before entering private practice in Portsmouth, Virginia.

In 1954, Spong began a long and distinguished career in public service, first as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, then in the Virginia Senate, and finally as a United States Senator. During his tenure in the Senate—from 1966 to 1973—Spong worked to further civil rights and voting rights in Virginia. His victory was an upset to Virginia's Byrd organization, which controlled state politics for much of the twentieth century. The defeat of the Byrd organization, best known as advocates of pernicious segregation practices which continue to have long-lasting implications, would herald a new era of progress toward civil rights in the Commonwealth. Spong also had a considerable impact in Virginia education, chairing the Commonwealth’s Commission on Education, which redeveloped secondary education in the state, and the Commission on the Future of Virginia.

After leaving the Senate, Spong returned to lecture at William & Mary in 1975 and was installed as Dean and Woodbridge Professor of Law the following year. Prior to his tenure, he was instrumental in helping to raise funds in the Virginia legislature to support the construction of the Law School's permanent home on South Henry Street at a time many that thought would mark the end of legal education at America’s first law school. Indeed, Spong helped to steer the law school away from an accreditation crisis with the American Bar Association and toward a period of considerable reputational improvement.

Speaking with his signature and inimitable Portsmouth drawl, Spong made his priority as dean the furtherance of the Law School’s national standing. These efforts included working to attain a charter for the Order of the Coif—an honor society recognizing exceptional student performance in legal academics—to the law school. Spong also brought the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office of Training to the Law School, which continues in the present, providing employment opportunities for graduates and establishing William & Mary as a font of strong prosecutors for the Virginia bar. Early on, Spong also brought increased prominence to the moot court program and the tournament by calling upon his lofty connections in Richmond and beyond. Increasingly, members of the Virginia Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and United States district and appellate courts, many of whom were knew Spong personally, began the tradition of travelling to Williamsburg for the tournament. Spong remained at the law school until his retirement in 1986. Spong spent his later years serving as of counsel with the firm of Cooper, Spong & Davis in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Spong was a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institute, the University of Virginia, Washington & Lee University, the University of Richmond, and the University of London. He served as president of Old Dominion University, as trustee of Hampden-Sydney College, and as a member of the Board of Visitors of both the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. He lectured in India, Australia, Malaysia, and Austria. Dean Spong was also the recipient of honorary degrees from Hampden-Sydney, Roanoke College, Washington & Lee, and William & Mary.

Above all, former Dean and President Emeritus Timothy Sullivan has term him “an idealist without an illusion,” committed to the furtherance of legal education in Virginia. The Law School takes great pride in the legacy of Dean Spong, and the Moot Court Board takes particular pride in his dedication to development of an outstanding oral advocacy program at William & Mary which continues to flourish today. The tournament was renamed in his honor in 1986 upon his retirement and remains a sterling example of Spong’s commitment to legal education and the tradition of fine appellate argument.