When members of the Joplin High School Constitution Team found out earlier this week that they wouldn’t advance to the We the People national championship from the state contest, they were devastated.
Despite efforts of their coach, history and government teacher Will Keczkemethy, to cheer them up, they spent the bus ride home in near silence.
They weren’t yet in happier spirits when they were asked a few days later to get together to pose for a team photo for the yearbook.
But that’s when Keczkemethy sprang the good news on them: They will compete at the national finals after all.
“It took a second to comprehend,” said senior Drew Cox, a member of the team. “It was surreal.”
The 14-member Constitution Team will compete in the We the People national championship in April for the third time in four years. But this year, the students are not going alone: Their primary in-state rival, Westminster Christian Academy of St. Louis, also will represent Missouri at the national level.
Keczkemethy said Joplin was the top-scoring team at the state competition Monday in Jefferson City, but only Westminster initially advanced to the national level because of a contest regulation infringement by Joplin related to the loss and replacement of members of its team.
He said Joplin will compete at the national level in the Warren E. Burger Class, a special slot in the competition named for the former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision came midweek from national-level coordinators, he said.
The competition, which is held in a mock hearing format, tests the ability of high school students to research and discuss the U.S. Constitution, government, politics, law and current events. Each school team is divided into six units that specialize in different areas of constitutional history and application. They are evaluated by a panel of lawyers, judges, educators and political scientists.
Keczkemethy said his students prepared for the competition during a daily class period at school and often after school, despite not having a lot of materials or the financial support to train with teams of lawyers, as some bigger schools do.
“Despite all that, we have students that are deeply dedicated and work extremely hard, and are very bright and well-spoken,” he said. “These kids give a lot of their blood, sweat and tears to do this.”
Cox said he was interested in joining the team because of his love for public speaking and history. He said being on the team has made him aware of what’s going on around him and how it relates to the principles on which the country was founded.
“It’s taught us the importance of staying involved and knowledgeable,” he said.
Samantha Bradfield, another student on the team, said she already is feeling the crunch before the national contest starts in less than three months. The team has gotten a new set of questions to research and prepare, and the competition is 85 days away, she said.
“We started our countdown,” she said.
Joplin High School previously represented Missouri at the national championship in 2011 and 2012. The competition, which draws the top team from each state plus several wild-card teams, is slated for April 25-28 in Washington, D.C.
This year’s team
THE 2013-14 CONSTITUTION TEAM from Joplin High School is composed of Laela Zaidi, Alexander Salgado, Christine Miranda, Brooks Butler, Kilty Box, Kush Bhakta, Adelle Kanan, Samuel Belnap, Samantha Bradfield, Drew Cox, Raquel Leyva, Matthew Riechman-Bennett, Renee Walker and Brett Holcomb.