Mock trial takes on nation’s best

BY OLIVIA POOLE–

From May 13 to May 15, the mock trial team competed at nationals for the third time in 22 years.

Mock trial started in Shorewood in 1984, the first year the team made it to nationals. The team went again in 2007, as well as this year, taking 25th place out of the 46 states participating.

“We split it two and two: we only lost by one point in the third round, out of 280 points total. The judge changed the score sheet; we had been up by two and then the judge changed it so we lost by one,” said Debra Schwinn, coach and social studies teacher.

Schwinn began coaching mock trial as a parent volunteer when her son was in high school. When she got a job at Shorewood in 2009 they happened to need a coach, and as a licensed attorney, Schwinn fit the bill perfectly.

“I had a natural interest in it. It’s the perfect combination of law and teaching,” Schwinn said.

The national competition took place in Boise, Idaho, and the case was a dispute between a cattle rancher and a sheep herder, which is actually a common case that presents itself in Idaho.

“Every October the Wisconsin state bar puts out a case of stipulations, the complaint and six different witness statements [plaintiff and defense side]. We split the kids up and have to know both sides of the case and at the competition they will say, ‘Shorewood plaintiff will face Whitefish Bay defense,’ and then we go with half our team. Same thing with nationals but a new case,” said Balen Essak, senior.

Teammates agree that, up until the last round of the state competition, they had no idea they would make it to nationals.

“We knew we’d be a good team, but we did not in any way expect to go to nationals. We even had made a lawyer group chat in October called Boise 2016, and all laughed at it,” Essak said.

Though the team had no expectations going into nationals, they were very impressed with how they competed.

“We love state and we worked really hard to go to state, but nationals was a whole different animal. We were one of very few public schools. There were mostly private schools; in the case of some, homeschool consortiums,” Schwinn said.

The team didn’t know what the national competition was going to be like, as no one on the team had been before, and it changes every year.

“It was a good 25th; we are really happy with how it went. We didn’t know what to expect — Schwinn had never been and Nathan [Bayer, volunteer attorney coach,] was with the 2007 team but he said it was very different. We didn’t know if we’d be totally blown out or do really well,” Essak said.

As for the individual trials at nationals, Shorewood also impressed themselves. The team went against Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Missouri, beating Mississippi in the first round, and then losing to New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania was a good team, and the New Jersey trial was really close, we lost by one point because the judge changed their decision, and New Jersey got 13th overall so we were really one point out of 13th, which is pretty cool,” Essak said.

In the third round when they lost to New Jersey, the one point that decided the trial was one of around 280 points total.

“These guys were great and could go toe to toe with anybody. We were the scrappy little public school that could,” Schwinn said.

Being prepared for nationals was a challenge of its own, as the team had four months less to prepare a case twice as long as the state case.

That being said, the students still could only think of one true negative to the trials and the process, the judging.

“The only negative is that judging and final results are really subjective, with no hard and fast rules,” said Claire Howland, senior. “You can get a wonderful score from one judge, and the other judge can hate you, which is hard to prepare for,” Howland said.

Still, the students involved take a positive outlook, continuing to work their best.

“We do compete and want to win, but also we understand judging,” said Molly Eder, senior.

“None of us won competition-wide awards but we totally won it on the dance floor. We kicked butt,” Essak said.

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