Federal Relations

Bright Spots in Home Schooling

April 22, 2002  

Home Schooled Mock Trial Team Makes It To National Competition

The Family Christian Academy Home Schoolers of Chattanooga, TN have qualified for the National High Mock Trial Championships.

It doesn't matter that the Family Christian Academy Home Schoolers of Chattanooga, TN have to practice in a hospital cafeteria. It doesn't matter that some of the mock trial team members' parents have to drive more than 30 miles and then wait a few hours just for their children to be able to practice.

It doesn't matter because the families are involved in an enjoyable activity that provides a variety of educational, cognitive and social benefits.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that this team is the first group of home schoolers to qualify for the prestigious National High School Mock Trial Championships, being held this year in St.Paul, Minnesota, May 9-12.

The team is coached by Jeff Atherton, a partner in the Chattanooga law firm of Milligan, Barry, Hensley and Evans. He is assisted by Matthew Hargraves, a home school graduate and alumnus of the mock trial team, which Atherton, a home school dad, began 11 years ago.

In fact, in the recent Tennessee state mock trial championship, both the champions and runners up were part of the Family Christian Academy home school group. Atherton and Hargraves coach eight teams of home schoolers in all.

Atherton said the championship group projects a great maturity.

"With this particular team, their professional demeanor, for a high school group, is just amazing," Atherton said. "Some of my peers in the field are not as professional, in terms of demeanor and in their ability to express professional courtesies, irrespective of the adversarial nature of the profession. I think the team's success in part is due to that.

"With regard to the team members playing the witness roles, they show a great ability to be both persuasive and also consistent with the characters they are to portray. This group takes it very seriously and the same thing can be said for the (runners-up)."

Atherton said home schooling provides some pluses and minuses in terms of helping the team compete at a high level.

"In the first instance it creates an obstacle, in that we don't have a centralized facility that will permit us to meet," he said. "Right now the only place that will let us meet is a cafeteria in a local hospital. Schools won't let us in, apparently for liability reasons, and my office isn't big enough."

Then you have some parents living 30 or 40 miles away, so they have to drag their kids to the hospital, wait for two or three hours and then turn around and take them home," he added with a laugh.

"In terms of assets, for this group at least, it represents an opportunity, not only for an academic challenge, but a social opportunity," he said. "There were eight home school teams in our district, so we met, practiced together and had the benefit of scrimmaging, while the public schools usually have just one team."

Atherton listed critical thinking and self-confidence as two talents that the mock trial competition serves to develop.

"It helps with so many things. It's a combination of speech and debate. Even the witnesses find that it is more challenging than a drama program, because there are no scripts," he said. The attorneys have to be ready to think on their feet, think logically and think very concisely, as time limits are strictly enforced in the competition."

Atherton said a few team members are actively considering pursuing a career in law.

The achievement and demeanor of the Chattanooga group is likely to serve as a prime reminder to many associated with the competition, of the effectiveness and virtues of home education.

Members of the team that will compete in the national championships are Matthew Downer, Joshua Downer, Anna Downer, John Poston, Amber Gruber, Beth Coleman, Andrew Jones and Daniel Wilkinson.

Members of the runner-up team include Jesse Blankenship, Mandy Blankenship, Justin Stinson, Laurel Stinson and John Gibbons.

To look at the team's web page, including a picture of the two tops teams, click on the following link: http://www.mocktrialonline.org

To see the web site for the national competition itself, click on the following link: http://www.nationalmocktrial.org/index.htm

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