By Curt Yeomans
Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Jonesboro High School's mock trial team, but the school still captured its second, consecutive national championship.
This year, it will have nine returning members, so the team has the experience to know what it takes to compete for another title.
Since Jonesboro won its second national title in May, school system and Clayton County officials have not hidden their expectations for a three-peat --- in front of a home crowd.
"We've got to work harder this year, because of those expectations," said Bridget Harris, a senior on the team. "Since we've done this [won national championships] two times already, we've got the upper hand, because we have that experience, and we know what it takes to get to that level."
If Jonesboro can fight off teams like North Clayton and Morrow high schools at the regional competition, and then fend off teams on the state level, then the legal cardinals will compete in the 2009 National High School Mock Trial Competition held May 6-10, 2009, in Atlanta.
"We're just going to work hard like always," said Clayton County State court Judge John C. Carbo, one of Jonesboro's attorney coaches. "The thing we really have to do is not let them rest on the accomplishments of last year's team. This is a different team, and a new year."
Jonesboro has 22 students on its mock trial team roster, but Carbo said there will be cuts to whittle the number down to 14 members. This year's team will be led by Harris and veterans, Tobias Kelly, Jurod James, Braeden Orr, Jayda Hazell, Joe Strickland, Brian Bady, Dominique Delgado, and Adrian Marshall.
"It helps that we have a lot of experience," said Hazell, one of five veterans. "But, even some of the newcomers have a lot of talent and they are going to really help out a lot."
The newcomers to the team are Tyler Anthony, Courtney Smith, Oriana Patterson, Kristi Hicks, Aquilla Jones, Atallah Ali, Lashaunda Reese, Bryan Johnson, Fred Rohrbach, Ryan Taylor, Caroline Calloway, Keenan Kelly (Tobias Kelly's younger brother), and Daniel Lovell.
"This new group is very inquisitive about everything," said Orr. "We [the veterans] are trying to give them a ton of information about what to do and what not to do."
No school has ever won a national mock trial championship in its home state. In fact, no team has ever won three national championships. Jonesboro has two, which ties the school with the Tennessee Family Christian Academy Homeschoolers for the most national championships by a single school.
According to the national competition's web site, Jonesboro's success at the last two national competitions propelled Georgia into the role of the winningest state in the nation. Georgia has produced four national championship teams, slightly ahead of Iowa, which has produced three national champions. South Gwinnett High School won a national title in 1995, and Clarke Central High School of Athens won the title in 1999.
"We've been very fortunate to have had the success that we've had, and it's the result of hard work put in by all four of our national championship teams," said Stacy Rieke, the state mock trial coordinator, and the organizer for this year's national competition.
Clayton County State Court Judge Linda Cowen, the coordinator for the Clayton County mock trial region, said Jonesboro's work ethic is why the school has been so successful over the years. Not only does the school own two national titles, but it also has six state championships (a state record), and more than 20 regional titles.
"Jonesboro's edge really is all the hard work those kids put in," said Cowen. "Not that the other schools don't work hard as well, but nobody honestly practices as much as Jonesboro does."