By Curt Yeomans
Delaware's nickname is "The First State," but it was a school from Georgia that went to Wilmington, Del., last week and took top honors at the national mock trial competition.
More specifically, it was a little team from Clayton County - from a school named Jonesboro High School -- which entered the competition as the defending national champion.
Jonesboro is now the second school to ever win more than one national title. The Family Christian Academy Homeschoolers, from Chattanooga, Tenn., previously won dual titles. In both cases, the championships were achieved in back-to-back years.
"It feels good ... what do you say when you do something like this?" said captain Laura Parkhouse, one of three seniors on the team. "It's amazing that we did it again. What I'm really proud about is the growth of this team over the last few months. Not all of us knew how to play the roles we were given when we started this journey, and yet, we finished the year off with precision."
Jonesboro did it with an almost rebuilt team. Five members of the 2007 national championship team, including all but one attorney, graduated last year.
Members of this year's team met with skepticism from people at the state and national competitions. Many questioned whether a revamped team could go back to the national competition and win it all.
Parkhouse said the fact the school comes from Clayton County, a school system in the midst of an accreditation crisis, also caused people to doubt Jonesboro's talent level.
"Let's be honest, we come from Clayton County and there's not a lot of positive things coming out of the county right now," she said. "I think we proved to the school board there is still something positive in the school system worth fighting for."
Criticism of the team and county were silenced at the national competition, however, when the team swept the judges' ballots in the first four rounds.
"Ha-ha, we proved everyone wrong," said Bridget Harris, a junior and a newcomer to the team. "You don't just fall off because you lost some people. It just makes you work harder to get back to that level of competition."
Jonesboro's win didn't come easily, however. Just like in 2007, the school faced Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School in the final round. Kalamazoo Central is one of the more storied programs in national mock trial history. The school has made 16 trips to the competition, more than any other school in the nation. It won the national championship in 1996, and has finished as the national runner-up the last three years.
Jonesboro may have swept through the first four rounds, but Kalamazoo gave the Cardinals everything they could possibly want in the final round of competition.
"They are really good," said sophomore, Braeden Orr. "It was probably the best round we've ever competed in."
"They practiced so often, they had something to do for every possible scenario," Parkhouse said. "They could just whip out their books and flip to a page with a solution."
Jurod James, a junior on Jonesboro's team, said there was one thing Kalamazoo did not look at while preparing for the competition - the stock market. The case for the national competition examined alleged ties to terrorism, and a corporate hostile take-over attempt.
"They stayed within the bounds of the case," James said. "We went outside the case materials and looked at stock market concepts, particularly the ones dealing with outstanding shares."
Jonesboro also countered with its own secret weapon in the closing arguments - Parkhouse. She emphasized a theme of "protect, promote and preserve" as she offered her closing remarks to judges. The theme meant: "Protect the United States; Promote the stockholders' chances to maximize their profits; Preserve the rights of shareholders."
Parkhouse also speculated on the possibility Kalamazoo was scared of Jonesboro. "They flip a coin to see who will be the plaintiff and who will be the defense," Parkhouse said. "We really wanted to be the plaintiff, because we feel that's our strong point. So when we won the coin toss, I turned to my teammates and screamed, 'We're the plaintiffs,' and everybody started cheering.
"The people on Kalamazoo's team were just looking at us like they were asking themselves, 'Why is Jonesboro so excited? Do they have something big that they pull out when they are the plaintiffs?'"
After the final round ended, the Jonesboro and Kalamazoo teams were taken to the site of the awards banquet in limousines. They were then led into the banquet hall by a Scottish bagpipe corps. "It was pretty cool because it was unique, but it was a total shock," said junior Joe Strickland.
When Jonesboro flew back to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the team was greeted by state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, Corrective Superintendent John Thompson and dozens of cheering parents, friends -- and total strangers.
"You would think we just came back from war," said senior Ralph Wilson, referring to the fact that such a reception is usually reserved for members of the military who are coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan.
"We were kind of surprised by it," said junior Tabias Kelly. "We're glad it happened, though, because it shows they [the community] appreciate what we are doing."