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Johnston-Edgefield-Trenton (JET) Middle School Mock Trial Team has High Hopes for 2022 State Competition in Columbia

Johnston, SC – The Johnston-Edgefield-Trenton (JET) Middle School Mock Trial Team loves to win.

Collectively, they’ve spent hundreds of hours in both team practice and individual preparation since the beginning of the school year. Even more important than victory itself, however, is how they win. That’s one of the reasons why the team’s top finish in state regional competition in November was so meaningful. In addition to placing first in its region, the team earned extra recognition as winners of the competition’s Professionalism and Civility Award.  

“I get emotional sometimes when I see them come to school every day with smiles on their faces, knowing how tired they are and how hard they’ve worked,” stated JET Middle School Principal Debbie Courtney. “When we found out about the professionalism and civility award I was just sobbing because that award is voted on by all the teams and that tells me we’re teaching them to be kind, professional, and to carry themselves with character. These students are my heart.”

“Winning the professionalism and civility award is what has impressed me most about these students, because it shows they know how to win while also displaying professionalism throughout an entire competition,” added Allison Rawls, the team’s lead teacher coach. “I was really proud of these students for that.”

Blair Massey serves as the team’s attorney coach. She expressed tremendous pride in the commitment the students have displayed since August to both the team as a whole and to one another. 

“To see middle school students come together and work so hard toward a common goal is something special,” commented Massey. “Winning the professionalism and civility award speaks volumes. As happy as I was to win the region, I was really happy for the team to win that award because it speaks to the individual character of every one of these students. I’m very proud of all of them and so happy to see all of their hard work pay off.”

In a mock trial competition, students represent either an attorney or witness for the prosecution or defense in a fictitious court case they present to judges. The team has two timekeepers, one bailiff and three alternates. JET Middle’s team is led by lead teacher coach Allison Rawls, teacher coaches Ruth Bledsoe and Gloria Jackson, and attorney coach Blair Massey. Team members include Carter Beth Massey (attorney), Olivia O’Gorman (attorney), Joseph Green (witness), Michaela Owen (attorney), Rebecca Carpenter (witness) Lilly Smith (attorney), Beau Whitfield (attorney), Olivia Stevens (witness), Dixie Latham (attorney), Kinsley Logue (witness), Carmandie Campbell (witness), Liam Smith (witness), Aaron Ray (timekeeper), Lauch McLauren (timekeeper), Landon McReynolds (Bailiff), Carvey Campbell (alternate), Tyanna Harrison (alternate) and Joshua Holmes (alternate).

Eighth-grade team member Beau Whitfield, who was named as one of the top defense attorneys during the regional competition, says the awards and recognition have meant a lot to the team. She delivers closing remarks for the defense.

“Most people do not know how much work we put in, so it felt really rewarding to win the regional competition because it’s so important relative to the amount of time you put into practicing here at school and at home,” Beau commented. “The judges judge you on everything, from your appearance to how well you speak, so in order to be an effective attorney you have to have good presentation, memorization and preparation.”

Olivia O’Gorman, an eighth-grade student who handles the opening statement for JET Middle’s defense team, says the benefits of competing go far beyond the courtroom. 

“It helps you with public speaking and it helps you become more confident because you have to speak in front of a lot of people you don’t know and you have to impress them, so it definitely helps you with your confidence,” Olivia commented. 

“Mock trial competition helps them with reading, reading comprehension and research,” commented Rawls. “This year we have a criminal case that deals with a fan being trampled at a concert, so there is some legal terminology and, of course, public speaking, but it also teaches them about being a part of a team and working together.”

“What I love is seeing the growth that takes place,” she added. “We had one student here in a previous school year who was a bailiff his first year and the next year he was an attorney and he nailed it and even impeached a witness, so it’s good to see that growth. For a lot of students, it really boosts their confidence.” 

Mock trial competition pushes students to develop new skills and quickly become proficient, something Massey says will have long-lasting benefits.

“It’s really a new skill set for these students,” stated Massey. “They have to learn to be flexible in the middle of a round based upon a judge’s ruling, so they are learning new skills they probably haven’t had to master before, but they are all transferable skills that will serve them so well well beyond middle school and even high school. I really prepare the middle school team in the same way I prepare the high school team with the understanding they may not pick things up as quickly or it may take them longer to grasp certain concepts, but the idea is we are preparing them for high school anyway, so I don’t take it easy on them and I find that they rise to the challenge.”

“I think a lot of them come in not knowing what an attorney does or what an attorney should look like, so we try to train them with real life examples and real cases to give them an idea of how an attorney should act,” added Massey. “Being an attorney or a witness also requires different skill sets. Someone who is a great attorney may not make a great witness.” 

The team looks forward to competing again this weekend (Dec. 2 and Dec. 3) in Columbia, South Carolina, at Richland County Central Court located in the Decker Center (2500 Decker Blvd.) for the 2022 South Carolina Bar Association’s Middle School Mock Trial Championship. Over the past two years, the competitions have been virtual due to the pandemic, so this year’s state competition will be the first in-person state event even for the more experienced eighth-graders. 

“It takes a lot of discipline and dedication and I’m so proud of these students,” stated Rawls. “They’ve had to go through a lot the past two years with the competitions being virtual and those eighth-graders have stuck with us. We’ve been working on our cross examinations, objections and tweaking some of our opening and closing statements. We’re excited.”

“We’ve been fine tuning some things and we want to evolve some to keep everyone fresh so we’ll add more questions and tweak things, but we’re close to being a state championship contending level team,” Massey added. “We’re very close.”

ECSD Public Information Office