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Jonesboro's mock trial team wins third state title

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The marquee outside Jonesboro High School said it all on Monday morning -- "Some things never change: Mock Trial State Champs."

Jonesboro added a third consecutive state title to its belt on March 16, at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville. The new title marks the school's fifth state championship in seven years, and it's sixth Georgia title overall. It won its first state championship in 1988.

For the second year in a row, the school won a state title by defeating arch-rival Henry W. Grady High School in the championship round.

"Grady is one of the toughest teams in the state," said Braeden Orr, one of Jonesboro's prosecuting attorneys. "I competed against Grady last year as well. It's always a battle with them. They are always good and you have to be at the top of your game to defeat them."

Jonesboro, the defending national champion, will now compete in the National High School Mock Trial Competition, which will take place May 8-10 in Wilmington, Del.

At the national competition, the school will try to venture into elite company on the national level. Only one school, the Family Christian Academy Homeschoolers from Madison, Tenn., has ever won more than one national championship.

The homeschoolers won the 2002 and 2003 national titles.

The return trip to the national competition didn't come easily for Jonesboro, though. Each team has a prosecution and a defense. The two sides simultaneously compete against an opponent.

Jonesboro's prosecution defeated Grady's defense, but the outcome was reversed in another courtroom where Grady's prosecution defeated Jonesboro's defense.

It ultimately came down to how many cumulative points each team earned in the competition's championship round.

"We won't know for a few more days exactly how close the teams [Jonesboro and Grady] were in the end, but it was extremely close," said Anna Cox, one of Jonesboro's faculty coaches.

Cox and Jayda Hazell, Jonesboro's defendant at the regional and state competitions, said there was some concern about whether the school could keep up its championship ways this year. Six members of the national championship team graduated last year, and all of them had between two and four years of mock trial experience.

"It feels better [to win] this year because we felt like we were resting on the laurels of people like [graduates] Lindley Curtis and Britt Walden," Hazell said. "This year's win was on our shoulders alone."

Orr said the team will work on basic items, such as handling a line of questioning and strengthening each person's ability to perform in dual roles until the national case is released on March 31.

At the national level, a team can only have eight members, four of whom play two roles.

Bridget Harris, who was one of the team's prosecuting attorneys at the regional and state levels, is looking forward to the possibility of adding some versatility to her courtroom experiences.

"I want to play a witness, just so I can find out what it's like," she said. "I just pray for the person I'm crossing [as an attorney], because they'll need all the prayers they can get."

In addition to another championship, the team picked up a few personal honors at the state competition. Tabias Kelly won three awards for outstanding witness performances throughout the competition. Kayla Daniels, a senior at Jonesboro, won the state journalism contest for her coverage of the Clayton County competition in February.

Harris, a junior, is already looking ahead to next year, winning a fourth consecutive state title and going into the national competition as the two-time defending national champion.

"We have to win because next year's national competition will be held in Atlanta," she said. "We have to defend our back yard."

Team members this year are: Orr, Hazell, Harris, Kelly, Daniels, Laura Parkhouse, Dominique Delgado, Joe Strickland, Ralph Wilson, Jurod James, Brian Bady, Avion Jackson, Lindsay Hargis, Adrienne Marshall and Miguelande Charlestin.

The teacher-coaches are Cox, and her husband, Andrew. The attorney coaches are Clayton County State Court Judge John C. Carbo, Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield, Henry County Assistant Solicitor General Tasha Mosley, and law school student, Katie Powers.