Omaha’s Creighton Prep Takes Title 12/23/16 12/23/16 7:59:53 AM
On the far left are coaches Tom Houston and Mark Laughlin; on the far right are teacher coach Mike Shreves and coach Tom Strigenz. And in between them are the members of the Mock Trial State Champions of Creighton Prep High School (in no particular order): Nolan Drain, Graham Laughlin, Will Lighthart, Jaliya Nagahawatte, Will Novacek, Max Strehle, Jacob Thull and Tyler Vareny.
– Photo courtesy of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation
Omaha’s Creighton Prep Takes Title at
State High School Mock Trial Championship
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
He gives the teams he’s coached all the credit for their success, but Mark Laughlin of Fraser Stryker law firm has been a coach of the High School Mock Trial state champions two of the last three years. Two years ago, the team won the 2015 national championship and finished as runner-up last year. It is yet to be determined how this year’s winning team – Creighton Prep – will fare at the 2017 national competition.
When Mark’s daughter, Molly, attended Duchesne, Mark and his father, Jerry, teamed up to coach the school’s mock trial teams. Success came quickly. Duchesne won the national title in 2014. Last year, after competing for Duchesne and placing second nationally, Molly graduated.
Mark’s son, Graham, attends Creighton Prep, so Mark moved over there to coach their team. Jerry, who is of counsel at Baird Holm, stayed behind at Duchesne, joined by Jacqueline DeLuca, who works at Fraser Stryker with Mark.
Pat Cooper, also of Fraser Stryker, worked with Mark on both of those winning Duchesne teams as well as the Prep team, where they were joined this year by Sarpy County Public Defender Tom Strigenz and Tom Houston of Berkshire and Burmeister, along with teacher coach Mike Shreves.
On December 8, Prep beat Duchesne in the final round to take the state title. Never has a finish been so close. Both points and ballots are earned during the final competition and Prep took them with the narrowest of margins. This is Prep’s first state title.
“The two teams were evenly matched and both deserve to go to nationals,” Mark said. But only one can go and this year, that team is Prep.” It’s a huge win, as the school hasn’t been to the state competition in 15 years and has never finished higher than eighth place.
“The eight young men from Prep were incredibly talented and worked very, very hard over the last three months. They deserved to win the championship. It was an honor to watch them come together as a team,” he said.
Mark is quick to give 100 percent of the credit to the students. “They all work incredibly hard every year.” And when it’s this close, both teams are virtually identical, he noted.
One of the Duchesne team’s coaches, Jacqueline DeLuca, said “The amount of time and effort the Duchesne mock trial team put into preparing their case was remarkable. Their work ethic was evident at each of the competitions. Regardless of the outcome, I remain impressed by the poise, professionalism, and determination exhibited by each of the girls on the team. I am grateful for the chance to watch them progress this season.”
Mark agreed. “ I know what a top 10 mock trial team in the country looks like. And Duchesne is a top ten national team. They were very talented and it was obvious they put in the work. The two teams were evenly matched and both deserve to go to nationals.”
He also noted that the Nebraska Mock Trial competition has raised its game. “This was the closest final ever.”
Mark was in a unique position of having coached both an all-girl team and an all-boy team. Any differences there?
“Oh yes,” he said. But all the teams he has coached were “all in.” Fellow Prep coach Strigenz agreed. “Boys need to be kept focused. It was an adjustment for Mark when he came to Prep,” he laughed. “Girls seem more self-motivated. But after the win, the Prep team is highly motivated and excited about going to nationals,” he said.
The Creighton Prep team, along with its coaches, will travel to Hartford, Conn., in May to represent Nebraska in the National High School Mock Trial Championship. The trip is partially underwritten by the Nebraska Council of School Attorneys and the Nebraska State Bar Foundation, sponsor of the High School Mock Trial Project in Nebraska.
Team members are Nolan Drain, Graham Laughlin, Will Lighthart, Jaliya Nagahawatte, Will Novacek, Max Strehle, Jacob Thull, and Tyler Vareny.
The two-day state championship involving 12 teams from mock trial regions around the state, took place at the Lancaster County Justice and Law Enforcement Center in Lincoln. The teams who won their regional competitions and the right to compete on the state level were Region One, Sidney; Region Two, Ogallala; Region Three, Dundy County Stratton; Region Four, Ainsworth; Region Five, Grand Island Senior High; Region Six, South Sioux City; Region Seven, Scotus Catholic of Columbus; Region Eight, Platteview; Region Nine, HTRS; Region Ten, York and Region Eleven/Twelve, Duchesne Academy and Creighton Prep.
Each team participated in three trials after which the top two teams were determined. The case presented by all teams involved Blake M. Brando who was on trial for the murder of a fellow playwright and actor in the community playhouse presentation of Burr, a reenactment of the famous Hamilton/Burr duel. More than 60 attorneys from the Lincoln area volunteered their time to serve as judges for the state championship.
Members of the Duchesne team are Elizabeth Billings, Lauren Bloomquist, Christina Danielson, Kari Fossum, Gabriella Nelson, Margot Ricketts, Mary Clare Rogers, and Olivia Stanek. The teacher coach is Adam Klepper, and attorney coaches are Jacqueline DeLuca and Gerald Laughlin. In 2015, the Duchesne Academy took the National High School Mock Trial Championship title, and in 2016, the team took second place in the national competition. Those two teams were coached by Mark Laughlin, Pat Cooper and Gerald Laughlin.
On the first evening of the State Championship event in Lincoln, students enjoyed the annual Mock Trial Banquet at the Embassy Suites. The Winthrop and Frances Lane Foundation provided a grant to help defray expenses for Mock Trial teams from Greater Nebraska to participate at the state competition.
The Nebraska State Bar Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a mission to serve the profession and the public. It sponsors numerous law-related education programs for the public, including Mock Trial. Omaha attorney Charles F. Gotch of Cassem, Tierney, Adams, Gotch & Douglas is the Bar Foundation’s president.