Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 2, 2021

GPS mock trial teams win first, third place in state competition

GPS 1 placed first in the state high school mock trial competition in March. Pictured in the back row are Isis Cantrell, Katie Day, Julia Combs, Lauren Thacker, Abby Grace Kueter and Reese Miller. Pictured in the front row are Judge Brian House (coach), Emma Hamilton, Manasa Makam, Anisha Phade and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tammy Combs (coach). Not pictured: Meghan Ray and Rebecca Hayslett. - Photograph provided

The Mock Trial Club at Girls Preparatory School has experienced a year of firsts. It was the first year the school had enough participants to fill five teams – the most in the program’s nine-year history. It was also the first time the school competed in an all-virtual contest.

Most importantly, 2021 also marked the first state championship for the school, with GPS 1 placing first and GPS 2 finishing third during the March 19-20 competition.

In addition, juniors Lauren Thacker (GPS 1) and Ellie Fivas (GPS 2) were voted Most Valuable Participants.

Members of the Tennessee Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division organized, hosted and judged this year’s state high school mock trial competition, which began with 61 teams at the regional level. According to the state YLD, no other school has placed first and third at the state level, giving GPS yet another first.

With their sights now set on the National High School Mock Trial Championship, to be held virtually May 13-15, GPS’ team members face learning a new case.

The case was to be announced April 1. Teams were to learn then if the case would be civil or criminal.

A single team consisting of members of the two winning squads will tackle the case.

This year’s Tennessee case pitted plaintiff Bryson Sailor against defendant Drew Jennings in a case that challenged teams to argue whether the defendant placed a screw in Sailor’s chicken sandwich or the plaintiff swallowed it on purpose. Throughout the competition, students prepared to try either side.

GPS advanced to state in early 2020 but was unable to compete after the pandemic forces its cancellation. The competition was held virtually this year, which presented a unique set of challenges, says Reese Miller, president of the GPS Mock Trial Club.

Not only did the teams have to learn how to skillfully unmute and break into an argument, but participants also had difficulty reading the jurors and determining if their testimony was landing well with the judge or opposing counsel.

“It’s not the same as being together in a courtroom,” Miller says.

Also, during the state contest, the club’s coaches called upon several members outside of teams one and two to fill in for members of both teams who had conflicts during the various rounds of competition.

Reese says their willingness to help didn’t surprise her or the coaches. Early on, the girls set up a shared spreadsheet so each team member could see when the others could practice during the school day.

“We always have a dedicated group, but this year, we rehearsed strictly online, and that made it easier to reach out to see when others could help,” Reese says.

The state win occurs as a senior class that has come close to nationals but never advanced to them prepares to graduate. Reese says the girls have their coaches – Assistant U.S. Attorney Tammy Combs and Judge Brian House – to thank for their victory.

“They’re dedicated to our teams. They’re both busy with their jobs, but they put everything aside to help us. That made us want to work even harder.”

To prepare the students, House studied the problem and made a spreadsheet of every question he could imagine someone might ask during the trial. This prepared the witnesses for anything that could come their way and gave the lawyers ideas for which questions to ask.

“Brian is very helpful for character development and helping us to create someone who’s unique,” Reese says.

Throughout the contest, real life judges told the students their courtroom skills matched or exceeded current practicing attorneys and encouraged them to pursue a career in law.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Roger Page, who presided over the finals, was among those judges. He said the performance of the participants “blew ... [him] away” and insisted all of them “could be lawyers in just a few years.”

Combs and House also had nothing but praise for their teams.

“Our students poured a lot of hard work and dedication into this season and overcame many obstacles,” House says. “These young ladies truly represented themselves and their school with class.”

“I’m proud of their hard work,” Combs adds. “With the help of a full-team effort between regionals and state, GPS 1 and GPS 2 transformed into teams with even more critical thinking and advanced reasoning.

“Going into state, I had high expectations – and they exceeded them.”

GPS history teacher Dr. Steve Harrison serves as club sponsor.

Reese says her four-year experience with the club has changed her in myriad ways.

“The biggest skill I’ve gained is being quick-witted and able to think on my feet,” she says. “Mock trial has even helped me to state my opinions and stand up for myself in my classes at GPS.

“I also learned to take a huge chunk of information and decide what matters most to an argument.”

Reese says her mock trial experience at GPS impacted her so significantly, she applied only to colleges with mock trial teams. Others on the GPS team say they plan to pursue careers in law.

No doubt they’ll be confident and ready for any obstacles that come their way.

Source: GPS