By Curt Yeomans and Johnny Jackson
Jonesboro and Ola high schools enter this weekend's state mock trial championship with different backgrounds.
Jonesboro is the two-time defending national champion and Georgia's most successful mock trial team, having won a record six state championships, including the last three.
Ola, which is in it's third year of existence, is making its first trip to the state mock trial competition.
Both schools will face 16 teams, including frequent challengers like Central (Macon) High School, Athens Academy and Atlanta's Grady High School.
"I expect that the Georgia state competition has some of the best competition in mock trial," Jonesboro Mock Trial team member Braeden Orr said.
The State Mock Trial Competition begins Saturday, at 9 a.m., in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive, in Lawrenceville. The second round of competition will begin later in the day, at 1 p.m., and the semifinalists will be announced at an invitation-only reception honoring the teams after the second round.
The semifinals will begin Sunday, at 9:30 a.m., with the championship round set to start at 1:30 p.m.
At the Region 8 Mock Trial Competition in early February, Jonesboro team members were happy to win a regional championship, but they were also not satisfied with their performance, and expressed concern about their chances of winning the state competition.
Fred Rohrbach and Courtney Smith, both "witnesses" for Jonesboro, said the team has been practicing three days a week, for three hours a day, since the regional competition, while focusing on problem areas by doing exercises, such as gender-switching the defendant and plaintiff to keep attorneys on their toes, and reviewing state law and objections.
Jonesboro student Jurod James, who plays defendant "Professor Parker Hamilton" in the case being tried during the competition, said he thinks the month of practice has prepared the team.
"We're where we need to be," James said. "We're state-finals-competition ready, yet I do not think we have not peaked. We usually peak during the finals round of any competition we're in."
Anna Cox, one of Jonesboro's faculty coaches, said she is pleased with the team's progress since the regional competition. Cox has been a mock trial team coach at Jonesboro during five of the school's six state championship seasons.
"They are prepared for anything now, and they are as prepared, if not more prepared, than any mock trial team I've coached at this school," Cox said.
Jonesboro's team members are James, Orr, Rohrbach, Smith, Brian Bady, Caroline Callaway, Dominique Delgado, Bridget Harris, Jayda Hazell, Kristi Hicks, Keenan Kelly, Tabias Kelly, Adrienne Marshall, Oriana Patterson, and Joe Strickland. Their faculty and attorney coaches are Cox and her husband, Andrew, Clayton County State Court Judge John Carbo, Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield, Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley, and law student Katie Powers.
Ola's appearance will mark a milestone for the McDonough school. The 17-member team was created three years ago by Nicole Holcomb, a compliance coordinator with Henry County Schools, who also serves as one of the team's five attorney coaches. William White, Sandra Rivers, Lindsay Hodgson, and Brian Gardiner are Ola's other attorney coaches.
Ola won the Region 12 Mock Trial Competition in mid-February.
Ola's team members are Chris Butler, Regan Corder, Elizabeth Dennard, Marilyn Dyess, Hunter Furnish, Daniel Jenkins, Matthew Kelley, Blake Mershon, Chrissy Ogletree, Brian Pogioli, Marissa Poss, Eli Staggers, Amber Stapleton, Hannah Tabrizi, Ashley Thompson, Naasi Williams and Kyle Winsor.
"We're really excited about the team we have," Holcomb said. "The great thing about mock trial is that they don't only get to learn about the law, they get the opportunity to think critically and utilize public speaking skills that may help them in the career they choose in life."
Tommy Thompson, the team's head faculty coach and an assistant principal at Ola, said, "We're very pleased to be able to advance to this level. I think fighting the monotony of dealing with the same material since late November [is going to be challenging]. But the team is looking forward to competing among teams on the state level and seeing how we measure up against teams from around the state."