By Curt Yeomans
Every competitive group, whether it's a sports team or a mock trial team, is led by coaches, who try to pass on their experiences and knowledge to their performers.
Jonesboro High School's mock trial team is led by four attorney coaches with judicial, prosecutorial and textbook knowledge of courtroom procedure, while faculty coaches Anna and Andrew Cox, provide the organizational structure.
Clayton County State Court Judge John C. Carbo, Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield, Henry County Assistant Solicitor Tasha Mosely, and law student, Katie Powers, are the team's attorney coaches.
"They've made this team what it is," said team captain Laura Parkhouse. "They've taught us so much about how to prosecute and defend a case," she added.
The attorney coaches have put Jonesboro High in the national limelight. Three of Jonesboro's six state titles were won in 2006, 2007 and this year. The school finished fifth at the national competition in 2006, won the top prize last year.
Jonesboro also won state titles in 1988, 2002 and 2003.
Carbo and Mosely have been coaches for nine years each. Powers was a member of the team in 2002, and has been a coach since then. Benefield is in her second full year as a coach, and she has been assisting the team for about six years.
"They have been very helpful to me because I knew nothing about law back in August, when we started with the Judicial Club," said Bridget Harris, a junior who is in her first year on the team. "Eventually I learned everything, and then they taught me how to put it all together with style."
Ask the students who leads the attorney coaches, though, and they all point to Carbo. He oversees both the student attorneys and witnesses. Powers said Carbo not only inspires students to be "good, but to perform to the best of their abilities."
Parkhouse agreed, but said the team's precision has to do with the amount of practice Carbo and the other attorney coaches put the team through. "He's fair, but he's made us practice a lot to prepare for the national competition." Parkhouse said. "We practice four days a week, for three or more hours a night."
Carbo said the practice is essential. "You can't get to the level we've been at for the last couple of years without practice," he said. "You have to learn the facts of the case first, and then work on the finer points."
Benefield likes to talk about theory behind everything involved in the case. She spends the majority of her time with the team working with the witnesses to improve their performances. "In order to think on their feet, they have to understand the theory, not just memorize the responses," she said.
While Carbo and Benefield can provide the students with the judicial perspective, and Powers can provide the expertise of a former competitor, it is Mosely who offers the attorney's viewpoint. "I just try to explain my everyday courtroom experiences to them," she said. "I tell them to project their voices. Another thing I tell them to do is develop a theme, so the jury will stay interested in your argument."
Mosely said the coaches have had to do more coaching this year than they have had to do in previous years. She explained it is because more than half of the national championship team graduated. She also said the coaches have had to deal with the lingering cloud of the school system's accreditation crisis.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) announced its recommendation to revoke the district's accreditation the same weekend as the Clayton County regional mock trial competition in February. A month later, the AdvancED Accreditation Commission accepted the recommendation.
"We try to keep them focused," Mosely said. "They want to show the state and the nation that Clayton County is not a bad place."