Eight Saginaw High School students may have an impressive head start on careers in law and government, after placing sixth among 22 teams in the YMCA’s National Judicial Competition, held July 24-27 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  

The YMCA Youth and Government program — which calls itself “a laboratory in citizenship and government” — is designed to prepare young people for moral and political leadership in the American democratic process by providing guidance, training and experience in the theory and practice of public policy.  

The YMCA’s National Judicial Competition brings in teams from across the country to go head-to-head in appellate and mock trial contests. The Saginaw students participated in mock trial, which required them to study a court case and represent both the prosecution and the defense. Other team members took on the role of media and broadcast their own coverage of the proceedings. Teams are graded on their proficiency and effectiveness in delivering persuasive presentations. 

“I was in a state of shock when we found out,” said team member Leya Applewhite about the results. “This is a really good opportunity that most people don’t get, and I’m happy I’ve been able to experience it.”  

AJ Rea, youth civic engagement specialist with the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth, said Applewhite and her teammates inspire her and give her confidence in the future. 

“To be among the six best teams in the country is a tremendous accomplishment and we are incredibly proud of these students,” said Rea. “Our democracy works best when citizens understand and actively participate by voting, volunteering and being part of the decision-making process as they leave high school and enter adulthood.” 

In addition to taking part in the National Judicial Competition, local Youth and Government participants visited Washington, D.C., in February to advocate for legislation that aligns with YMCA core values — including bills that support childcare and nutrition, diabetes prevention, and civics education. One participant secured an internship with the re-election office of Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX 26th District). The students also participated in Texas Youth and Government programs in Austin during February and March. State activities include a legislative component, which challenges students to write legislation, debate it, and try to get it passed and signed by the YMCA’s Youth Government governing body.  

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