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Mock trial contest to proceed, after uncertainty

There was a period of doubt, but state mock trial officials announced on Wednesday that there will be enough teams signed up for this weekend's Clayton County Regional Mock Trial competition to allow the contest to take place.

The competition, which normally draws teams from virtually every high school in the Clayton County Public School System, will only have four teams involved this year.

For a time earlier this week, it appeared the tournament might have to be called off when coaches for Morrow High School's team thought they may not have enough students to field a team. They were able to pull in some extra students at the last minute, however.

Clayton County has hosted a regional mock trial tournament every year since the mid-1980's, said Regional Coordinator Chris Montgomery. He said he got the greenlight from officials at the State Bar of Georgia on Wednesday afternoon to go forward with this year's competition.

Teams will begin squaring off in the regional competition Friday at 6:30 p.m., at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, located at 9151 Tara Blvd., in Jonesboro. The event will continue on Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. Montgomery said he expects the championship round to begin between 12:30 p.m., and 1 p.m., on Saturday.

The teams competing this year are from Jonesboro, Lovejoy, Morrow and North Clayton high schools. Jonesboro and North Clayton battled it out in the championship round of last year's regional competition, with Jonesboro coming out on top.

The winner of the regional competition will automatically advance to the state mock trial competition in March. The runner-up will go into a pool with runners-up from other regions, and one of those teams will be picked for a wild card spot in the state competition.

Several years ago, the number of Clayton County high schools participating in the Jonesboro-based region grew so much that state officials had to pull Henry and Fayette counties out of the region, because it had grown too large. So, the fact that the Clayton County region almost did not have enough teams this year to hold a regional competition was shocking to Clayton County State Court Judge Linda Cowen, who has been involved in mock trial on a local level since 1985, and spent several years as the regional coordinator.

"It's very, very sad, and disappointing to me that we didn't have more teams competing this year," Cowen said.

Montgomery said the problem was that several schools had a hard time getting enough students who had the time to participate this year. "You have to have a certain number of people to compete, and some schools didn't have enough people," he said.

Dorian Murry, the lead attorney coach for Morrow High School's mock trial team, said a full mock trial team has 12 students ,who act as attorneys, defendants and witnesses, and another two students who serve as timekeepers. "It's possible to compete at the regional competition with nine members, but you can't advance past the regional competition with that many members," he said.

Murry said he and other coaches for Morrow's team found out during a practice on Monday that they may not have enough students. "The students have been working hard to get ready for this competition since August, and then, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we did not have enough students to compete," he said.

Stacy Rieke, the mock trial coordinator for the State Bar of Georgia, said if Morrow had not had stayed in the regional competition, there likely would not have been a Clayton County regional competition this year.

Rieke, who is also a former Riverdale High School mock trial coach, said the three remaining teams likely would have had to be moved into another region.

Rieke said she contacted Murry and the other coaches for Morrow High School's team and pleaded with them to go to their students and ask them to think about staying in the competition. In the end, it was the determination of the Morrow team members that saved the Clayton County regional competition from being canceled.

"They pulled together, and pulled some of their friends in to get the number we needed to have a full team," Murry said. "This is something they believe in, and it's something they've worked hard to do."