Following the State Bar of Nevada's We the People state competition on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas, Mark Towell’s We the People team had much to reflect on after placing third and bringing home two Unit Awards. Behind Reno and Incline high schools, Reed tallied a third-place finish after placing second in the district competition held in Reno in December.
Towell has been coaching his Honor’s Government class at Reed through We the People competition and curriculum for 13 years, so he is no stranger to defeat — or success — in the program which was designed by the State Bar of Nevada to give students law-related, civic education. He said overall the team presented its cases well and impressed many of the judges by their ability to maintain a conversational tone.
“They used a lot of diverse evidence to support their conclusions,” Towell said. “They used historical and current events, quotes and constitutional court cases to support themselves. They were comfortable in this high-pressure setting to have dialogue with equals. It wasn’t this intimidating discussion because the team had put in so much time and preparation.
“That was one thing that stood out. It is one skill to be able to recite facts from the encyclopedia and it is quite another to have a conversational tone with an adult. It shows the maturity that they have stepped into through this process.”
Towell said the state competition presents a much greater challenge than the district contest aside from the more talented teams and increase in question difficulty. He said they prepared for the district contest for almost six months before turning around to prepare for the state competition in a little more than a month.
“We had from Dec. 15 to Feb. 2, and two weeks of that was Christmas vacation, to prepare,” he said. “We really had a month together to prepare for a more intense competition with the best teams in the state with the ultimate prize on the line with representing Nevada in Washington D.C. The stakes are higher, the competition is more intense and the time frame is shorter.”
In juggling Winter Break with scheduling practice session for students, Reed High’s team was still able to prepare well enough to claim the third-place prize. Team members said the practice sessions were constantly scheduled and prevented wasting time.
“They were always intense and we spoke just like we were presenting in competition,” Reed senior Devin Sprinkle said. “Everything was super serious and we tried to get our papers finalized as soon as possible. It really got going and then the last week before competition we were meeting every night. We were trying to get our groups together and making sure we knew what we were going to say.”
Josh Hess, a member of Unit 2 on the We the People team, said the class’s pace and intensity are unrivaled in his academic schedule. He said the team as a whole, and the unit groups of three, formed a bond that allowed to keep the conversational tone that stood out to the judges.
“We had homework for this class before our junior year was over. That is how intense this class is and what it takes to be one of the top schools at these competitions,” Hess said. “The team as a collective came together and we did lots of things together. Especially in the units, when we were asked a cross examination question we would sort of look at one another and already know what we were going to say.
“It worked out really well and that was one of the compliments we got from the judges was that we worked great as a unit and it flowed really well. You’ve got to know what your partners are going to say.”
Towell agreed that this year’s team displayed a bond of trust and confidence that was tough to break throughout the competitions and the year in the classroom. Study sessions at one another’s houses and social gatherings were just some of the ways the team was able to generate a close relationship.
“This team developed an especially close bond as a family and getting together outside of the competition preparation for fun times,” Towell said. “That is one thing that will always be remembered regardless of how far we went in the competition. This is a magical part of their senior year and a magical part of their memories and they have developed relationships through this program that I’m sure will continue.”
Sprinkle expressed the value they found in participating in We the People, saying that the competition strengthened his outlook on the constitution and the overall process of government.
“I like to compete and being in that competition settings was one of the greatest feelings to be able to present, even over playing sports, but I also got to make a bunch of new friends,” Sprinkle said. “I know these people in this class so well now and I learned a different dynamic of government and learned how to support my claims. It showed me how when I am old enough to vote and if I plan to run for office how I can make our country better.”
Hess added that his experience will benefit him down the road as he plans to become even more involved in the political process during his college career.
“I know more about civic education now than I think I know about anything else put together. It is that intense and that much knowledge,” Hess said. “What I told Mr. Towell on the plane trip back is ‘if when I started somebody said you’re going to get second at district and you’re going to get third and lose at state, I still would have done it because of all the knowledge I have gained over this time. The ability to reason and speak with people is abundant.”
With the bulk of the work done for Towell’s government class the remainder of the year will be spent preparing for the Advanced Placement test which, if passed, ranks high on students’ transcripts. However, Towell said though the pressure has been lifted from participating in competition the ‘season’ never really ends.
“There is a tendency after this huge push to want to release and have ‘senioritis’ set in and be done,” he said. “The next step is to have the expectation within ourselves, and for me to lead in this respect, to still make the most productive use of our time as we can. We still are going to have interactive social events off campus that keep the team bond alive.
“They are going to be a part of helping me recruit for next year’s team and talking to juniors. I hope to instill a sense of We the People never ending. It is a life experience and an expectation to continue engaging and working with other people regardless of your career path.”