The Houston R-1 School District Constitution Project team defeated School of the Osage today to win the Freedom Cup, its first state championship.

The team advanced to state competition after defeating three teams in competition at the Greene County Public Safety Center in Springfield and the Texas County Justice Center in Houston.

Two Houston students won top awards — Kaitlynne Garnica for crime investigation and Gracyn McNiell for trial advocacy. Each will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

McNiell, left, and Garnica with their awards.

Students competed in three components — crime scene investigation, journalism and trial advocacy.

Each team worked with skilled, local mentors for the last month.

How it works: Originally founded in Houston in 2011 by former associate circuit judge Doug Gaston, the Constitution Project gives high school students a hands-on opportunity to investigate and report about a mock crime scene and eventually try “suspects” in a mock trial. The program took a break during the Covid years.

After tuning up in their home communities, participating schools’ teams are pitted in a competitive environment until a state champion is determined. A kick-off event was held earlier at the state capitol, where participants had the opportunity to meet state leaders and the head of agencies, such as the colonel of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.


•Crime Scene Investigation: Marietta Burton, Shaun Buck, Carli Cummins, Elliot Greiner, Tyler Kelly and Owen Wells. (Mentor Jim McNiell)

•Journalism: Maddison Holt, Christian Royer, Lee Skaggs, Stuart Smith and Hudson Volk. (Mentors Isaiah Buse and Brad Gentry)

•Trial Advocacy: Brody Adkison, Adyson Dailing, Arianna Flores, Gracyn McNiell and Riley Reed. (Mentor Sean Smith)

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