By Curt Yeomans
Jonesboro High is America's Mock Trial champions.
The team has to defend its national title, and the first hurdle is a county full of mock-trial teams with their sights set on knocking Jonesboro from its perch.
The battle will begin with regional competition, Feb. 16, 2008, at the Clayton County Courthouse. The winning team will then compete in the state competition, which will take place a month later.
"Clayton County has always produced really good mock trial teams. Every year since 2001, Clayton County has either produced the state champion, or the runner-up," boasts Clayton County State Court Judge John C. Carbo, one of Jonesboro's attorney coaches.
With the exception of a two-year period, Jonesboro High School's mock trial team has won its regional competition almost every year over the last decade. Riverdale became the only school not named Jonesboro to win the top prize in Clayton with a victory in 2000. Riverdale repeated in 2001, but Jonesboro returned to its winning ways in 2002, and hasn't lost a regional competition since then. The Cardinals have won a few state championships in that same time frame as well.
"We know if we can win our region, we stand a good chance to do well at the state competition, because the competition in our region is that good," said Carbo.
The gauntlets are being cast.
"Our team is up for the challenge," said Gloria Parks, one of the faculty coaches for the mock trial team at Mt. Zion High. "You know those situations where everyone wants to take down the guy on top? That's pretty much how our team is feeling."
Parks said her team is actually looking forward to meeting Jonesboro in the courtroom. This will be Mt. Zion's third year of having a mock trial team.
Mt. Zion will have five returning members this year, but a lot of new members have come over from the school's debate team. Parks thinks the debate team experience will help build the confidence of those members, because they will be prepared to give the kind of speeches needed to make opening and closing arguments.
Jayda Hazell, a junior at Jonesboro who was on the national championship team, believes there is a bull's-eye on the team this year because of last year's accomplishments. Hazell said the students who were on last year's team studied the seniors in that group closely to pick up on their courtroom style.
All of the student attorneys from the national championship team graduated weeks after returning from Dallas, Texas. Hazell said the lessons the returning members learned from the graduates, as well as the competition in the county, will do a lot to help Jonesboro compete at a higher level this year.
"You feel like you have to push a little bit harder this year, but that's OK, there's nothing wrong with pushing yourself harder," Hazell said. "You just have to make sure you know all of your stuff."
While Clayton County Magistrate Judge Daphne Walker doesn't deny Jonesboro's mock trial team casts a shadow over the rest of the county, the Riverdale High School attorney coach also feels students at other schools are going to be inspired by the defending national champions.
Walker, who was an attorney coach in the Atlanta Public School system before coming to Clayton County in 2001, called the level of competition in the county "healthy." Both Walker and Carbo believe every school has as a strong pool of talent to bring to the regional competition. Walker described the students pursued by Clayton County mock trial teams as "the cream of the crop."
Judge Carbo, and Anna Cox, one of Jonesboro's faculty coaches, added that the other schools in Clayton County won't let Jonesboro slide by this year, because of the national championship.
"There is no victory lap," Cox said. Both Carbo and Cox believe Jonesboro will have to be at the top of its game to beat the other teams in the county.
The State Bar of Georgia, which oversees the state's mock trial program, will release the case for this year's mock trial competition at midnight on Saturday.
However, Judge Walker reflected that the competition is not the main reason the legal community gets involved in the mock trial program.
"It focuses their [the students] energies on understanding the process, and hopefully encourages them to go into the legal profession," Walker said. "That's why the State Bar of Georgia got involved. They [the students] learn absolutely the same rules we have to learn in terms of presentation."
Carbo also said Jonesboro can't settle for being just barely above the other teams in the county, it has to strive to be far ahead of everyone else. When asked what Jonesboro has to do to remain above those schools, Carbo said there was no magic formula. He believes the way to remain on top is simple.
"It's preparation," he said. "People have asked me several times what the secret of our success is, and I keep telling them there is no secret. It's just practice, practice and preparation."