By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
If you think it’s hard to win an argument with a teenager, imagine what it’s like to come against members of Huron High School’s Mock Trial Team, who won first place last month at the Michigan Mock Trial State Competition. They defeated a formidable competitor: Community High School’s Mock Trial A Team.
Now Huron will represent Michigan virtually at the 2021 National High School Mock TrialChampionship from May 13-15. Since the team’s founding in 2015, this is the first time Huron’s Mock Trial team has ever advanced to nationals.
Mock trials are an enactment of a judicial proceeding during which students gain knowledge of the judicial system, legal process, and courtroom procedures.
“We have had some incredibly talented mock trial members since the program started back in 2015-2016,” said Huron social studies teacher Andrew Face, who coaches the team. “This year, I think our opening statements and closing arguments were strong, we made solid objections throughout the round, and our witnesses were able to remain confident even during tough cross-examinations.”
“I have so much confidence in this group. They are working incredibly hard at the moment, and I think that will show when we compete at nationals in May.”
Face explained that practices normally take place three to five times a week depending on how close they are to a competition.
“Preparing for trial takes an incredible amount of time,” he says. “Students have to read through the case materials, analyze them, and then begin developing their case theories for both the prosecution and defense. The case is normally released in November of every year. We then spend November to February preparing for regionals. Regionals are normally held at the Washtenaw County Courthouse in downtown Ann Arbor. However, because of the pandemic, everything was virtual this season, including nationals.”
Although the team lost some experienced attorneys and witnesses upon graduation last year, a handful of returning members were fully aware of what it takes to compete at a high level and the amount of work that needs to go into preparing for trial, Face says.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure how we would perform this year. I was always impressed in our run-through trials of how well we performed, including our new attorneys,” he says. “But as you head into trial you’re never quite sure how good the competition will be. We definitely had some tough rounds at regionals but were able to either get more ballots—which are what judges and attorneys use to score us—or receive more points than our opponents, which meant we were one of two teams to advance out of regionals and go to states.”
Twelve Michigan schools qualified for the state competition. Huron was the 11 seed going in but performed extremely well in each round. In the championship round against Community, Huron actually lost in total points, but won more ballots—which is how a team wins the round—and that meant Huron became the new state champs.
Huron senior Jessie Schwalb is completing her third year with the team, and recalls attending a meeting after seeing a promotional poster in a school hallway.
“I am an unsporty person and I love arguing and debate, so mock trial fit me perfectly,” says Jessie, who became co-captain along with Ridhima Kodali just after virtual learning began last spring.
As much as she loves being part of a mock trial, she’s not so sure about a career in the law.
“At the competition this year, one of the judges told us that being a lawyer puts you in a lot more debt than people think,” she says, “which doesn’t sound particularly fun.
In addition to structuring arguments in compelling ways and reading legalese, Jessie says mock trials have taught her the following:
- Performance and confidence are everything. Unfortunately, those that can present themselves well are favored over those who are actually better, and understanding this is the only way to do well in life.
- It’s ok to be loud and extroverted.
- Commitment is extremely important, especially when you are working as a team. However, you do not need to do everything, and you will actually succeed more if you share the load.
Her fellow Huron Mock Trial team members include James Choi, Virginia He, Varshini Kashyap, Ridhima Kodali, Vanya Krishna, Haruka Nabeshima, Maddison Powell, Jennifer Shim, Veda Srinivas, Lillian Stewart, and Jerry Yang. In addition to Andrew Face, coaches include Abdul Kizito, Seyed Mirabedini, and Serj Mooradian.
In the state finale against Community, Huron argued an arson case in which a low-income student was charged with setting fire to another student’s dorm in order to win a scholarship.
“I thought the trial was super fun,” says Jessie. “I love performing and going against other teams, especially when those teams are as good as Community. Overall, we were pretty evenly matched, and my sense is that we appreciated the arguments the other side was able to bring.”
Being virtual has definitely presented challenges, but overall the team was able to adapt, Face says.
“Despite not being in person I think the team did a great job of finding ways to connect,” he says. “The thing about spending hundreds of hours together is that you get to know one another really well. Students really become like family. It truly is a unique bonding experience.”
Chloe Root, the CHS Mock Trial Team advisor, is proud of her A Team for winning second in the state. A Team consists of captains Zoe Buhalis and Martha Ribant, as well as Charlie Solomon, Anna Stansfield, Mori Ono, Geneve Thomas-Palmer, Ava Kosinski & Hollis Riggs.
Root says the team’s success is also due in part to the hard work of B Team members: Captains Ameera Salman and Ben Cooper, as well as Evan Ash, Serena O’Brien, Izzy Jacob, Joey Lopez, Moose Gültekin, Zoe Simmons, Charlie Beeson, Stevie Dumitrascu and Grey Collier (Skyline High School), alternates Johana Horvath and Flynn Meagher, as well as numerous volunteer coaches and returning alum.