Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 12, 2013

John Cannon: Saturday was a trying day: 03/13/13

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — My wife, daughter and I were in downtown Lexington on Saturday to watch a big match anticipated for months.

No, we were not there to see the University of Kentucky Wildcats play the Florida Gators in a men’s basketball game many were calling a “must win” for UK.

Nor were we there to see which high school basketball team would win the boys’ Sweet 16. The competition we were there to witness had nothing to do with basketballs, hoops and young athletes. Instead, it was all about motions, witnesses, lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the defense, judges and others involved in the kind of civil trials that take place every day in Kentucky. While the courtrooms and judges were real, the plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses and lawyers were all high school students who were only pretending to try a real case.

Mock trial teams from more than 35 high schools from throughout Kentucky were in Lexington on Friday and Saturday for the annual state mock trial competition. The teams included two from Paul G. Blazer High School and one from Boyd County High School. No other area high school fielded teams this year.

My granddaughter, a junior at Blazer, has been a member of the school’s mock trial team since she was a freshman. She’s an excellent student who, unlike many girls, is extremely competitive, a trait some think she may have inherited from her grandfather. She loves mock trial and goes in expecting to win.

As both a freshman and a sophomore, my granddaughter was named “best lawyer” for Blazer’s team at the state competition, but until Saturday, neither my wife nor I had seen her compete. Well, we got to see her in action during two trials Saturday, one as the lead attorney and then as one of the two other attorneys for the defense. She once again was named Blazer’s “best lawyer.”

While on a one-on-one basis, Aryssa Damron strikes me as a bit shy and reserved, there was nothing shy about her during Saturday’s trials. She successfully raised so many objections to the testimony of one of the witnesses for the opposing side she succeeded in getting the witness extremely frustrated, which was exactly what Aryssa

was trying to do.

I encourage schools that do not have mock trial teams to consider fielding one, although it requires the active involvement of a practicing attorney to serve as coach or adviser. At the beginning of the year, participating teams were sent the same information about the case to be tried. Each team must present the case as the attorney for the plaintiff and then as the attorney for the defense. The fact that this year’s case involved a defamation of character suit against a television news channel made it that much more interesting for me because of my profession.

According to my granddaughter, her mock trial team finished 12th in the statewide competition, which is higher than Blazer teams had ever finished. She was not happy with that finish because she likes to win. She has one more shot at helping lead her team to a top 10 finish when she is a senior next year.

This weekend, my granddaughter will be in Louisville competing in state academic competition. Most of the events will be Sunday and Monday. My wife and I won’t be there for Monday, but we plan to meet in the audience on Sunday cheering (silently, of course) for Blazer’s quick-recall team, which won the region by beating the Russell High School team for the first time in 13 years in a best-of-three series as exciting as any athletic competition. Still, Russell won the overall district academic competition and will be one of the favorites at this year’s state competition.

In many ways, the mock trial teams have replaced school debate teams. In one sense that saddens me because I consider my brief experience on the debate team at Morehead State University the most valuable teaching experience I had for what I have been doing for more than 30 years. Whenever I write an editorial I always think about what those who disagree with me will say. I think that makes me a better writer, and I learned to do it as a debater.

I recognize scores of proud grandparents cheer their grandchildren in football, basketball, baseball and track and field. I cheer my granddaughter in her academic success. The thrill is the same.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at (606) 326-2649.