Largest group ever gathers for youth judicial competition

Updated: Nov. 6, 2016 at 11:25 AM CST
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Youth Judge Harrison Carter presides over a trial at the Frank M. Johnson Courthouse Annex in...
Youth Judge Harrison Carter presides over a trial at the Frank M. Johnson Courthouse Annex in Montgomery. Carter is a senior at Saint James School in Montgomery.
Justala Simpson, team captain for one of the defense teams from Brew-Tech of Montgomery, poses...
Justala Simpson, team captain for one of the defense teams from Brew-Tech of Montgomery, poses with teammate Austin Smith at the Frank M. Johnson Courthouse Annex. Photo by Meagan Holloway-Ragland (LAMP, Montgomery).

MONTGOMERY, AL - By Meagan Holloway-Ragland, Editor-in-Chief, YMCA Youth in Government Media

Alabama Youth in Government (YIG) is a YMCA program that allows students to receive firsthand experience on how the government works through mock trial and model legislative sessions. There are two conferences every year: Youth Judicial in the fall and Youth Legislature in the spring.

At this year's Youth Judicial conference, more than 600 students from more than 20 schools throughout Alabama gathered at the federal and county courthouses in Montgomery. New delegations added this year include ones from the Hope Christian Academy in Toney, Huntsville YMCA, Mountain Brook High School and Pike Road School. This is the largest number of students who have ever attended the conference since its inception in 1979.

At Youth Judicial, students form teams. In each team, there are three lawyers and three witnesses, and the team either represents the defense or the plaintiff. This year's case is a civil case, written by Chris Friedman, an attorney with the Balch & Bingham law firm who is an alumnus of the YIG program. The case chronicles an athlete who was accused of taking steroids by a teammate, causing the plaintiff to lose potential scholarship offers due to defamation. Students prepare for weeks in order to prove liability. They aren't judged on the verdict, but rather on how well they present their case and their sportsmanship towards the opposing team.

"I want to thank the delegates," Youth Chief Justice Talya Whyte, a senior at The Montgomery Academy, said Saturday as she opened the conference. "I know how dedicated you all have been to your opening statements, cross-examinations, and witness statements. I'm incredibly excited to see you all compete."

As students interact in and out of the court, they are gaining more than just the verdicts of the jury. Participants in this conference gain experience of how the law operates within a court.

The YMCA believes that it is important for the youth to be knowledgeable about the law so that they may go on and not only use that knowledge to benefit themselves but more importantly to benefit others and serve others in our community. Informed citizens are the ones who make a difference, and as students go home after this weekend, they will take with them invaluable knowledge that they will pass on to their peers.

"Although this is a competition, I'm always amazed by the friendly atmosphere created inside and outside the courtroom," said Youth Gov. Ford Cleveland, also a Montgomery Academy senior. "The fact that two teams can enter a courtroom, go at it for two straight hours and immediately go back to being best friends is one of the many reasons I love this program."

The participants learn about people: how to interact with people from different places, different backgrounds, and that is more important than anything else they receive this weekend. No matter who wins, who loses, students at this conference gain confidence, encouragement, and friendships that last a lifetime.

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