Being a first-year program didn’t hold back any of the Tullahoma High School (THS) criminal justice students at their first competition last week, according to school officials.
The Tullahoma team competed against eight other high schools and took home four different awards, including two first-place and one second-place plaque, at the annual Forensic Sciences Competition held at Spring Hill High School in Maury County on Nov. 8.
The competition is a two-day event testing students on their criminal justice skills, with contests involving things like traffic stops, court arguments, administering field sobriety tests and more.
The team competed in five categories out of a possible 12 and placed in three of them, according to instructor Jason Kennedy.
Tullahoma took home first place in Appellate Court Arguments and Felony Stop, second place in Unknown Police Response and the Rookie of the Year award after their day of competition, Kennedy said.
Kennedy was pleased with his students’ performance.
“It felt really good for Tullahoma to go in and be able to win the awards that they won against schools that have been competing for several years. The kids put their heart into it,” he said.
Limited practice time
Kennedy said the showing was even more impressive considering the limited time the students had to prepare.
The class began in August, but the students only had about three weeks to practice for the competition, according to THS Career Technical Education Director Travis Moore.
“Mr. Kennedy just started with us right after fall break,” Moore said. “They (the students) only had three weeks with him to learn what they needed to learn.”
Having such a strong showing at its first competition gives Moore a bright outlook on the long-term success of the program.
“We are very excited about what the future will bring,” he said.
Kennedy credits the students with putting in their best efforts during the preparation for the event, saying they spent many hours on Saturdays and after school practicing for all their competitions.
“I’m very proud of them,” he said.
Good practice for the future
The competition also serves as a practice run for several of the students’ future careers, Kennedy said.
“Several of the kids that competed,” he said, “they’re looking for a career in law enforcement, or the legal field.”
“This is a good way for them (the students) to have a basic understanding of what the criminal justice field is, and when they go to college they’ll have a little bit of a leg up on the people there because they already have a basic understanding (of the field),” he said.
Two such interested students are seniors Garrett Klein and Lauren Lester, the president and treasurer of the criminal justice club at THS, respectively.
Both were exceedingly impressed with how well their group performed and they look forward to using what they’ve learned as they move forward in life.
Klein said that coming into the competition and being able to sweep two different categories of competition “felt really good,” especially considering they were competing with well-established programs.
“It was actually really surprising, because we’ve only practiced for about three weeks, and we went up against eight other schools who have been practicing—their programs have been around for 10-to-15 years,” Klein said.
Klein was one of the winners in the Felony Traffic Stop category, he said. Klein plans to use his experiences to go into policing once he graduates high school.
For Lester, who competed in the Appellate Court Arguments, taking first place was a “validating” experience for her. Lester plans to enter the legal field when she graduates from THS.
“That was really exciting for me, because I want to be a lawyer—that has been my dream since I was really little,” she said.
The next step
After their impressive performance in the Nov. 8 competition, Kennedy said the plan from now on is to prepare the students for their next competition.
With more time to prepare, he said, Tullahoma has a chance to compete in all categories and potentially place in more of them.
Additionally, Lester said there was a possibility of a regional competition for those who placed in their categories.
Things aren’t yet set in stone, however, so she and the club members will be looking into it more. Lester said that they would be reaching out to the criminal justice teacher at Coffee County Central High School for more information, since the Coffee County criminal justice program has been in place longer than Tullahoma’s.
Erin McCullough may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.