In its first year using a statewide competitive format, the third annual Constitution Project came to a conclusion Nov. 19 in Jefferson City with a final round featuring teams from four Missouri high schools.
Having advanced to the final four, more than 70 students representing teams from Houston, Logan-Rogersville, Rockbridge (Columbia) and Cardinal Ritter (St. Louis) participated in a day-long battle including a crime scene investigation, press conference and mock trial. When the points were tallied at the end, judges declared Logan-Rogersville the overall winner of the “Freedom Cup,” a trophy that will travel to each year’s winning school.
The squad from HHS came away with one of several other awards, as the attorney group of Trevor Merckling, Laken Neal, Camryn Scheets and Olivia Woosley earned the “Sixth Amendment Award” for their performance in the trial.
In addition to nailing down the top team prize, Logan-Rogersville swept the three individual awards for best CSI officer, trial lawyer and journalist, each of which included a $1,000 scholarship (provided by the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys and the Missouri Broadcasters Association and Missouri Press Association).
Logan-Rogersville also earned the Fifth Amendment Award for top CSI team, while Rockbridge took the First Amendment Award for outstanding journalism team.
The crime scene investigation and press conference were staged at the Missouri State Highway Patrol headquarters, while the courtroom proceedings followed at the State Supreme Court building. The competition culminated with an awards celebration presided over by Missouri Chief Justice Mary Russell and Supreme Court judges Patricia Breckenridge and Laura Stith. Featured speakers during the closing ceremony were State VFW Commander Tom Mundell and Missouri’s only living Congressional Medal of Honor Award winner, Don Ballard.
“Our first statewide year for the Constitution Project was a great success,” said Texas County Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston, who founded the project in 2011 and is the main coordinator. “The students, mentors, schools and partners all came together and created something magical and meaningful. Our Constitution and the freedom it protects are sacred gifts which are now the responsibility of this generation to protect. Our students experienced the Constitution in a fun way, but I believe also in a way that will stay with them and instill a greater love of freedom and of our country.”
Since its inception as a Texas County-only activity, the Project has grown to the point where eight schools took part this year, representing four regions of Missouri. Gaston said he expects next year’s field to include teams from 16 or maybe as many as 32 schools.
“We are planning to expand the project even further next year, with many new schools already asking to be a part,” he said. “It’s so important for our kids to understand our Constitution and all that it means, and my goal is that soon this will be offered in every school in the state.”