Mock Trial

Phillips Exeter Academy has once again won the New Hampshire state mock trial championship.  What is more amazing, three of the top four teams in the state were Exeter teams.  I wanted to write, while it is still fresh in mind, about how this happened.

We knew, a year ago, that our first team would have a good chance of taking the state title again.  After all, New Hampshire is not a large state, and we would have back most of the key members of last year’s state champion team, including Alice, Ange, Audrey, Grace, Joon, Rohan.

What we did not know, a year ago or even six months ago, is that Exeter would have any other good teams.  Indeed, we rather thought that we would NOT.  But then, starting at our first meetings in the fall, we had new faces, eager young kids who wanted to learn mock trial.  For the first time in our mock trial team’s history we had to make cuts:  there were more people who wanted to go to the first tournament of the school year than we could really handle.

After that tournament, in early December, the leaders and I were inclined to cut down to two teams for the state championship in February.  We wanted to focus on winning the state championship, so that the first team could have the right to move on to the national championship.  We announced the two teams, A team and B team, and we told the other students that we would “do something in the spring” with them.  Then two girls (you know who you are) pleaded with me to form a C team.  They would work hard, they said, they would not take up too much of my time, they really really wanted to go to the state championship.  OK, I said, and over Christmas break the C team formed up.

All the teams worked hard.  The B team had a chain of emails over Christmas break to brainstorm their case themes.  There were long Skype sessions with Korea.  After break, we generally met as separate teams once or twice a week for two or three hours at a time.  But there were lots of meetings in which I was not involved, two or three students working through a direct or cross examination or giving and critiquing a statement.

Last weekend, the weekend before the trial we had three scrimmages.  A team plaintiff against B team defense; B team plaintiff against A team defense; and C team plaintiff against C team defense.  One of our scrimmages was held on Saturday morning, February 9, as two feet of snow was falling and blowing around outside the dining hall room where we worked.  I attribute much of our success to these scrimmages:  everyone wanted to do well in front of their classmates, everyone knew the standards would be high.  We met a couple more times this past week, refining and improving and practicing.

The state championship started on Friday evening in the Nashua courthouse with one round.  I stayed in the courtroom with C team, because I wanted to see one of the teams from the traditional mock trial powerhouse, Bishop Guertin.  To my surprise, my kids, ninth and tenth graders, were as good or better than the BG kids.  In particular, my kids generally had a better handle on the rules of evidence:  when they wanted to get evidence in, they could do so, and when they wanted to keep evidence out, they could do that as well.  The judges scored the round, but we did not learn the score Friday night, or any of the other scores.  To be continued.

We returned home, went to bed, got up early, left by bus at seven to return to Nashua.  In the second round I watched my A team, hoping to give them some pointers after the trial.  They were, as I knew they would be, very impressive:  polished statements, great character and emotion from the witnesses.  One of our witnesses, Grace, was playing the grieving mother of the deceased child, and everyone in the room could feel her grief.  I told her afterwards, when she asked me for comments, that I felt like a spectator watching a mountain climber high above; there is not much I can say by way of comment.

Fourteen teams started the competition Friday; at midday Saturday the judges were supposed to announce the final four.  Instead, they announced that there were three teams from one school that had advanced, so (to avoid matches between the same school) they would allow six to advance.  These six teams would compete in three simultaneous trials and, at the end, the best two, on the basis of the whole weekend’s work, would move on to a fourth and final trial.  The three teams were our three teams:  my beloved C team had advanced to the final four.

There was no time for lunch, we scurried back to courtrooms, about 1 pm, started another trial.  I gave brief pep talks to B and C team, but then stayed with A team, this time on the defense side, against another BG team.  I thought the round was pretty even:  we were better on objections, but they had one great witness, a detective with a great New York accent.  As we listened to comments from the judges, they praised both teams, and I was far from sure.

We returned to the foyer to hear the results.  Two other teams were in sixth and fifth.  Exeter C team was in fourth.  Another team was in third.  Exeter A and B teams were first and second.  You can imagine the joy, the amazement, among the Exeter kids.

We then “escaped” to a courtroom to discuss what would happen next.  We could, of course, have held a final round, between Exeter A team and Exeter B team, to decide the state championship.  But that seemed rather pointless, given all the scrimmages.  We decided to award first to Exeter A team and “call it a day.”

This is already a long message, but I want to list, without last names, all the students who participated for Exeter.  I feel so fortunate, so blessed, to work with them.  They were and are:  Yena, Ange, Jane, Ruby, Drew, Jaime, Teffany, Alice, Rebecca, Julia, Kieran, Alice, Jun, Rohan, Darleny, Tony, Danna, Sahil, Grace, Amelia, Saisha, Dana, Ellen, Joon, Audrey and Margaret.

Thank you all.