It’s simply called Room 233 – but it’s so much more.
It’s located on the first floor of Truman High School, just northwest of the hallway that leads to the gymnasium – and it is a testimony to the hard work of Truman’s nationally recognized debate and legal communications teams.
Inside, members of the Patriots Mock Trial Team are working with coach Christine Adams and her longtime friend and mentor, attorney Louis Cohn, as they prepare for their second consecutive trip to the national tournament May 9-16 in Hartford, Conn.
“I think last year, when we went to nationals, we surprised some people,” said Adams, who has been the director of debate and legal communications at Truman the past 19 years, “and this year, well, we proved last year wasn’t a fluke.
“Some pretty amazing things happen in Room 233 – you could call us a scrappy little group.”
An arched eyebrow and chuckle punctuated that comment.
“Oh my gosh, going to nationals back-to-back years is incredible, especially since we lost so many amazing seniors from last year’s team,” said junior Maddie Pententler, a proud member of that scrappy little group that has filled the largest trophy case outside of the Truman gymnasium.
“It’s a credit to Coach Adams and the kids on this team, especially the new kids like (sophomore) Kyler (Richard). She didn’t know anything about mock trials before she joined the Mock Trial Team and now she’s so important to our group – so important!”
Richard said the welcoming environment she experienced when she first walked into Room 233 sparked a love of the law.
“When I first came into this room, I felt so welcome, but I also felt the expectations,” Richard said. “We work with an attorney and Coach Adams and all these great students. I knew they went to nationals last year and never really believed we could go again this year, and we did!”
They achieved the back-to-back trip by topping a group of private schools that included St. Louis University High, St. Louis Clayton, Pembroke Hill, St. Louis Priory School and S. Louis Cor Jesu Academy in the finals.
“Pretty nifty our little public school defeating all those private schools,” Adams said, with more than a touch of pride in her voice. “And we have the core group from this year’s team back next year, so . . .”
When asked what the repeat victory was like, Adams grinned and said, “Well, it was like ‘We did it!’ Now, what do we have to do to get ready for nationals?”
Petentler was quick to add, “Last year, with it being our first trip to nationals, we didn’t do so well – we were a bit intimidated. But this year - we know what to expect, we are so ready to do something special. It’s a bit like jumping in freezing water – the first time, you don’t know what to expect. The next time, it can still be jarring, but you’re ready – and we are so ready.”
Adams jokingly said when she retires from teaching, she might consider a career as a travel agent as both her Mock Trial Team and winner of the President Ronald Reagan Foundation Great Communicator Debate Series are going back to nationals.
“A lot of flight information and booking hotels, but it is so worth it,” Adams said. “We are not getting any financial help with the trip to Connecticut, but the folks at the Reagan debate series are paying for our representative Eli Rojas and his coach to make the trip to Semi Valley, Calif., in May.
“Last year, Alex Millard represented Truman at the Reagan debate series and this year he is working at the presidential library as an intern. They really keep a close eye on their participants.”
While Adams talks about her team and individual success stories, Cohn works with a group of students on their new mock trial – about a murder that takes place in Connecticut.
“The students make this fun,” said Cohn, who donates his time twice a week during the regular season, and three times a week as they prepare for nationals. “They are actually teaching me. They want to know what I know, and how I know it. And that makes me think about what I need to work on. It’s a great process.”
And it all takes place in Room 233.