Joplin High School won first place at the Missouri Bar’s Show Me the Constitution competition Tuesday in Columbia.
Fifty students who participated in the event represented seven schools — Cole County R-V High School, Dixon High School, Joplin High School, Nixa High School, Kickapoo High School, Springfield Central High School and St. Genevieve High School. The student-led teams were tasked with answering questions about the psychological and historical foundations of the American government.
High schoolers come from around the state to compete in this event, with the main intention of teaching the students about constitutional rights. Missouri judges, lawyers, and teachers come to evaluate each team’s performance.
Thursday’s event involved questions about checks and balances, the Fourth Amendment and the Electoral College.
Each team had four minutes to present their initial argument, and the judges were allowed to cross-examine their arguments for eight minutes.
During this cross-examination, judges often posed hypothetical questions or chose from a prepared list of questions. The judges then provided feedback to the students and then assigned them a score.
Judges said they valued depth of knowledge on the topic points that were raised and ability to conduct “healthy debate” on the issues.
The Missouri Bar is a nonpartisan organization of the Missouri Supreme Court, but the discussions in the competition often involved impeachment, a national issue.
“These conversations are not encouraged, but they’re not discouraged either,” said Hannah Kiddoo, one of the event’s planners. “We’re more focused on making sure that students can apply the Constitution to current events.”
Last year, Springfield Central High School won the competition and Joplin High School came in second place. But Missouri Bar Director Anthony Simones said that there’s never any clear frontrunners until the very end of the competition.
“Sometimes small schools come with five team members and knock it out of the park. Sometimes big schools come with 15 members and still knock it out of the park,” he said.
Another facet of organizing this event is providing a very flexible environment for students.
“Some competitions require students to prepare around 15 questions,” Simones said. “We don’t want to discourage or intimidate them away from competing, so we narrowed it down to three.”
Joplin High School team coach Will Keczkemethy said team members worked diligently to research every facet of the three questions so their work ethic would be obvious to the judges.
“Their generation is going to become leaders someday, and I think it’s important to teach them this now so they can keep our republic going,” he said.
Honorable Joseph Goff Jr., a 24th Judicial Circuit Court judge, has been a longtime participant in the Show Me the Constitution competition, encouraging legal education in students, teachers and citizens alike.
“I always learn something new during the cross-examination, which is always surprising,” he said. “Our goal is to let students guide us, but the solutions they present are always so fascinating.”
Although Joplin walked away with the victory this time, Simones said that the etiquette of the students always shines through.
“Our focus is to build a foundation to inspire these kids to know and care about their rights for the rest of their lives, but we live in a culture of disrespect,” Simones said. “I think this program inspires a lot of mutual respect between teams and peers. It’s nice to see someone have a civil disagreement every once in a while.”
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