Joplin High School’s Constitution team came out on top again when they took first place earlier this week at the Show-Me the Constitution competition sponsored by the Missouri Bar.
Joplin’s team bested teams from six other schools to claim top honors in the competition held Monday in Columbia. Students on this year’s Constitution team are Elizabeth Benfield, Gina Compton, Grayden Cravens, Wyatt Hensley, Elijah Neville, and Amy Richman-Bennett. Will Kijkimethi is the coach.
The competition is a mock trial competition in which student teams research and present constitutional topics to a panel of judges, including attorneys, current and retired judges, and teachers. This year’s topics focused on Miranda rights, religious expression in public schools, and judicial review.
Keczkemethy said the Joplin high school team has been the state champion six times since 2010. The former coach, Barbara Arnold, also captured several teams to first place during her tenure.
Keczkemethy praised his students for the hard work they put into researching and preparing for the state competition.
“It takes a lot of dedication and … I don’t lecture them,” he said. “This is a very student-centred course, and it’s a student-led course. It’s a research-based course, and it’s full of open-ended questions that sometimes there may not be an exact answer, so there’s a lot of thought process that goes into it. That’s why it might be This is too difficult; it is not a matter of rote memory.”
Keczkemethy said the team has also received mentoring and practice from other educators and community members, including Shawn DeGraff, Andrew Seavy, Scott Vorhees, and Barry Sanborn.
Penfield, a senior at JHS, said the competition was “nerve-wracking,” especially since one of the team’s judges was a Missouri Supreme Court judge.
“But we’ve trained a lot and studied a lot and can list hundreds of different Supreme Court cases and laws, United States laws — anything you want to know, we can list for you,” she said. “We were well prepared.”
She said after graduating from Joplin, she plans to attend college and earn degrees in criminology and political science.
“This experience will definitely help me with that,” she said. “I want to go to law school, so having that background and being able to talk about these things and discuss these things will definitely help me achieve my future goals.”
Compton, who is also a senior, said the win was really a team effort. She and her five classmates had been practicing their speeches until the morning of the state competition, making sure everyone was ready.
“The fact that everyone on the set did it — we were all there to help each other, make sure we all understood what was going on — I think was the highlight for me,” she said.
She said the first-place award was “fantastic”, but it was the experience and knowledge gained that would benefit her the most.
“This gives you a better understanding of your rights as an American, the importance of how our energy systems work, and why things exist the way they do,” she said. “I think that’s the knowledge that a lot of people lack today, and indeed throughout history, so having the opportunity to participate in something like this and share our knowledge and work together, I think, is crucial.”