By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County's seven mock trial state championship teams were recognized for their winning ways on Sunday with the unveiling of a wall of honor at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro.
Six of those state championship teams are represented in portraits which hang on the walls of the jury assembly room at the justice center. The portrait of Clayton County's first state championship team, the Jonesboro High School team from 1988, will join those portraits, once State Bar of Georgia officials turn it over to Clayton officials.
The wall of honor was jointly sponsored by the Clayton County Superior and State Court Administration department, and the Clayton County Bar Association.
"It's very important to remember these teams," said Yolanda Lewis, the court administrator for Clayton County. "Even though Clayton County teams have won two national championships, the number of state championships won by Clayton County schools is a good indicator of how well our students have done."
Clayton County is quickly becoming thought of as the cradle of the state's mock trial program. County officials started the program on a local level in the early 1980's as a way to teach local high school students about the law. In 1988, the first state competition was held, organized partly by Clayton County officials.
While Jonesboro went 14 years before winning its next state championship, the school has gone on to become Georgia's most successful mock trial program with six state championships (a state record), and two national championships (tied for a national record).
However, Jonesboro is not the only Clayton County school with a state championship under its belt. Riverdale High School was the state mock trial championship in 2001, and finished thirteenth at the national competition.
In fact, it was Riverdale who launched an era of Clayton County dominance at the state mock trial competition. Beginning with Riverdale's victory, Clayton County teams have won six state championships over an eight-year period. Jonesboro built on Riverdale's accomplishment by winning state titles in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Since 2001, no state champion from Clayton County has finished lower than No. 16 in the nation -- out of more than 40 teams who compete each year at the national competition. Jonesboro won national championships in 2007 and 2008. While, those national championships have brought attention to Clayton County's mock trial programs, it is the state competition where the county has seen its greatest success.
"Each time a team from Clayton County has won a state championship, it's been a testament of the hard work of the students and their coaches," said Clayton County State Court Judge John C. Carbo, who has been one of Jonesboro's mock trial coaches since 2002.
Clayton County State Court Judge Linda Cowen, the coordinator for the Clayton County mock trial region, said the portraits will serve as a reminder to future state championship teams from Clayton County of the hard work needed to be successful. Every time a new mock trial team from Clayton County wins a state championship, its portrait will be added to those already hanging in the jury assembly room.
Beginning this year, Clayton County could have even more opportunities to produce state champions. Stacy Rieke, the state coordinator for the mock trial program for the State Bar of Georgia, said the state competition will be altered slightly in 2009. Traditionally, teams had to win their regions to earn a spot in the state competition, but two wild card teams will be allowed to compete this year, Rieke said. The state competition will be held March 14-15, in Lawrenceville.
Rieke, who was a coach for Riverdale High School's mock trial team in the late 1990's, said the wild card rule could help show the strength of Clayton County mock trial teams, If a team from the county is selected as a wild card competitor. Riverdale and other high schools, like North Clayton and Morrow, have traditionally fielded strong teams, but they often have been overshadowed by Jonesboro, Rieke added.
"Of the schools that traditionally make it to the finals in Clayton County's region, any two of them that make it to the state competition are more than capable of winning a state championship," Rieke said.