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Community has high hopes for county's 'crown jewels'

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Jonesboro High School's mock trial team has become a focal point for community pride since the school won the national championship last year.

The pride has continued to swell as the school system has struggled to deal with an accreditation crisis, which has been ongoing since November 2007. The issue has cast a negative light on the district, and brought national attention to Clayton County.

In the minds of many people, Jonesboro's return to the national competition this week in Wilmington, Del., is a sign that not all is wrong in the school system.

"For me, the Jonesboro mock trial participants are our crown jewels," said Eldrin Bell, chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

Several officials, including Bell and commissioners, Sonna Singleton and Virginia Gray, state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), and Georgia High School Mock Trial Coordinator Stacey Rieke attended the team's final dress rehearsal, which was held on Sunday at the Harold S. Banke Justice Center. Britt Walden and Brian Cunningham, Jonesboro graduates who were on the 2007 national championship team, also were in attendance.

Several of the officials said they were impressed at how professional the team acted during the rehearsal. Bell said he's never seen a more professional performance in a court room in over 40 years as a police officer and officer of the court. Glanton said the team represented "what Clayton County is all about."

"When all is said and done, I have no doubt they will be national champions again," Glanton said. "This is the gem that allows us to continue to shine. They have set a bar which I believe will continue to stand for years to come. In this time of uncertainty right now, it's these students who are leading us."

"We always knew our students are very sharp, bright individuals, and now the rest of the nation will find it out as well," Singleton said.

Rieke said Jonesboro has a strong team this year, but she wasn't surprised to see the school be good again. She said Jonesboro has won more state titles -- six -- than any other school in the 20-year history of the Georgia competition. The State Bar of Georgia organizes the state mock trial program.

Jonesboro's national win in 2007 tied Georgia with Iowa as the two states with the most national titles. This means a Jonesboro win in 2008 will make Georgia the top-performing state in the history of the national competition.

"We think they [Jonesboro] have a very good chance to do well ... they will defend their national championship and make Georgia proud again," Rieke said.

Walden and Cunningham had high hopes to see the team defend the national title they helped the school earn after observing the dress rehearsal. "My advice to them is to be confident and don't step backwards," Cunningham said.

"Based on what I saw [at the rehearsal], if they can re-create that five times, then I can't fathom anyone being better than them," Walden said.