I am just back this evening from Albequerque, where Phillips Exeter competed for the first time in the national high school mock trial championship. Essentially every state in the nation was represented, along with a few other places: Guam, Korea, Australia, etc. Since each team consists of at least eight, and more often about twelve kids, there were over 500 kids in one hotel, and at least that many adults. An immense, exciting event.
I am so proud of my kids. Their nominal place, 26th, does not sound that impressive. Perhaps a more accurate way of describing what they did is that, on the first morning of the first day, they faced a very good team from New Mexico and beat them. Then they faced an incredible team from Washington state, a team that has attended nationals year after year, and played them pretty well, although Washington won. At the awards ceremony, that New Mexico team was 7th and the Washington team 6th. So Exeter can compete with and some times beat the best teams in the nation.
After four rounds of competition, the hosts announced the two teams that would compete for the national championship. This year it was a team from New Mexico (not the one we faced; the host state gets to have two teams) and a team from Georgia. A few of us from Exeter went to watch this fifth and final round of the competition and it was amazing. It was in the large ceremonial courtroom of the federal courthouse there in Albequerque. The two teams were so prepared, so smooth. We thought we had studied the case very thoroughly, but they had noticed things in the case materials that we never noticed. For example, they had noticed that a bank statement that purported to be for the month of April in fact included information about the total amount withdrawn in March. The prosecution made good use of that to suggest that the defendant had withdrawn the murder money in March, as the prosecution’s lead witness testified.
Everyone on the Exeter team played a role in this weekend. Alice and Da’Rya, who helped us win states but could not compete at nationals because of the eight-person team limit, served as scouts, getting us lunch and lunch tables at the crowded restaurants, a key factor in good performance in the afternoon. Keeping time at this level is serious business, and Emery was a great timekeeper. We had some amazing witnesses; one of our girls had the court bailiff laughing aloud. We had great lawyers, although this time, for the first time, they encountered some other lawyers who knew the rules of evidence slightly better. But that can be learned, and we have all our four lawyers returning next year.
We learned an incredible amount over the weekend. My kids would kill me, however, if I revealed much more here; they want to use the lessons of Albequerque to prepare for Indianapolis, the site of next year’s national championship. Our goal is to return to nationals and get ourselves into the top ten. An ambitious goal but, I believe, quite possible.