Mark Kennedy: GPS sweeps to victory in Tennessee Mock Trial competition, heads to nationals

Mark Kennedy, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·3 min read

Apr. 11—Yikes, there was a screw in my chicken sandwich!

Repeat that alarming sentence to the mock trial team at Girls Preparatory School and you're likely to get an interesting response.

A smile, perhaps. Or maybe a groan.

For two years, GPS mock trial team members were locked in on a case involving a foreign object in a chicken sandwich. But was the screw planted or intentionally swallowed? That was the question at hand.

Ultimately, when the pressure was on last month to determine the 2021 Tennessee High School Mock Trial champion, one team refused to choke. (Pardon the pun.)

In March, GPS's No. 1 Mock Trial team became the Tennessee state champions, a milestone for the independent school which had never even competed at the state championships before 2021. In 2020, the team qualified for state but the competition was canceled due to the pandemic.

Now, it's time to hoist the state trophy and prepare for the nationals in May.

"We swept in and took it [the Tennessee state championship]," said Tammy Combs, an attorney and GPS parent who helped coach the team. "That was exciting and thrilling for the kids."

Not only did the school's No. 1 team take the state championship, but the GPS No. 2 squad placed third, completing a dominant showing. Montgomery Bell Academy of Nashville "sandwiched" in at No. 2.

The Tennessee High School Mock Trial Competition is organized and judged by members of the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, according to a GPS news release.

More than 30 GPS students participated in the competition this year, which was Zoom-based due to pandemic restrictions. In all, 61 teams from across the Volunteer State were involved.

The GPS team's ascension has been remarkable.

"We went from six members in 2013 to more than 30 [this year]," Combs said.

Judge Brian House, a Superior Court judge of the Lookout Mountain Circuit in Georgia, also coaches the team; and GPS history teacher Dr. Steve Harrison serves as club sponsor.

Interestingly, GPS Mock Trial team members said this year's virtual competition worked to the school's advantage.

"I really attribute [our success] to the fact that we put in the time and effort," said Lauren Thacker, a GPS junior. "Because we were on Zoom, we actually ended up meeting a lot more than we would have in a normal year."

Meanwhile, teammate Isis Cantrell, a GPS senior, said the team's Zoom-arama strategy is still paying dividends. When the facts for the national competition came out in the wee hours of April 1, the GPS teammates sprang to action.

"The minute it came out — literally 12:01 a.m — we all read it," Cantrell said. "Then we did a Zoom at 2 a.m. We have been living and breathing mock trial since the day the case came out.

"We want to be as competitive as possible. It's the first time we are competing at nationals, but we remind ourselves it was our first time competing at state, too."

Julia Combs, a GPS junior and daughter of coach Tammy Combs, credited the coaches with pushing the team to victory.

"My mom used to come [to GPS] every day and miss her lunch to coach us," Julia Combs said. "At home, I can go run to my mom's room and say, 'What do you think about this?"

"They [the coaches] dedicate so much time and effort to us. We wouldn't be anywhere without them."

The national High School Mock Trial competition, which will also be virtual, will be May 13-15.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.