Creighton Prep v. 45 Other Mock Trial Teams 5/18/17 05/22/17 10:51:34 AM
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|Preparing for the National Mock Trial Championship are, from left, Gerald P. Laughlin, Patrick S. Cooper, senior Will Novacek, sophomore Jaliya Nagahawatte, junior Tyler Varney, senior Jacob Thull, junior Graham Laughlin, seniors Max Strehle and Will Lighthart, and Mark Laughlin. Prep junior Nolan Drain and Mike Shreves are not pictured.Creighton Prep v. 45 Other Mock Trial TeamsBy Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
You know how Branch Rickey said baseball is a game of inches? It seems that the high school mock trial competition is too.
The state champions of Creighton Prep arrived in Hartford, Conn., on May 9, eager to claim the national title. They were the first Prep team to win the state title back in December. Their lawyer coaches for the national competition were Fraser Stryker PC LLO attorneys Patrick S. Cooper and Mark C. Laughlin, who had (with a lot of soul searching) moved over to Prep after leading Duchesne Academy to a national title in 2015 and second place in 2016.
Mark Laughlin explained that he had coached his daughter at Duchesne and when she graduated last year decided to coach his son, Graham, at Prep. Cooper came with him. Two other local lawyers coached Prep in the state competition as well. For the nationals, Laughlin’s father, Gerald P. Laughlin, joined the prep squad. He had previously coached at Duchesne as well.
Mike Shreves, government and practical law teacher at Creighton Prep was their teacher-coach. This is his last year coaching mock trial, so the competition was bittersweet. It was made all the more so when his mother had a heart attack the night before their departure. She insisted that he go anyway, and he said she is doing much better now.
“The Mock Trial team performed at an incredible level during the competition. I couldn’t be more proud of the way the boys represented Creighton Prep and the State of Nebraska both inside and outside the courtroom,” Shreves said.
We caught up with the lawyer-coaches and the team a few days before their departure to Hartford. It was their last practice session at Prep, with one more planned that Sunday in a real courtroom.
How do teachers and lawyers prepare a team of high school students to argue a case in court?
First, the senior Laughlin said, they study the packet of information supplied by the mock trial organizers; the Nebraska State Bar Foundation at the state level and Civics First, Inc. at this year’s national level. The case studied was the murder case of State of Connecticut v. Wilbur Merritt IV. They had a little over a month to prepare compared to several months to prepare for the state case arguments.
“Working together with the students, we assign roles to them. The packet provides us with the case, six witness statements and exhibits. We select those who will serve as witnesses and who will be the lawyers,” Laughlin continued. In this case, their selection was influenced in part by their speech and debate and acting backgrounds.
Then the students prepare the questions, including direct examination and cross-examination. In the latter, they craft leading questions (“That’s a big deal.”).
The students’ preparation includes writing and editing, witness character creation and oral argument practice.
“The whole preparation is like a mini law school,” Gerald Laughlin said. “When we were at Duchesne, another lawyer – Dave Mullin, who is the grandson of Bob Mullin – taught evidence collection!”
Then they practice, practice, practice.
The team scrimmaged four teams before the competition even started, including a “very good” North Carolina team and an “even better” Georgia team, Cooper said. “We were getting better every day and learned a lot from them.”
Scrimmages are a way to see the level of competition they would be facing. Did they affect Prep’s approach? “Our approach was the same but we had lengthy meetings after each scrimmage to discuss our plan.”
Organizers planned a host of activities for the students when they weren’t practicing, including a special Olympic-like opening event at Dunkin Donuts Stadium, home of the Hartford Yard Goats. Competing teams rounded the bases with their state and school flags held high, then settled in to exchange pins with other students and to watch the minor league baseball game.
During the weekend events, Doris Huffman, executive director of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation, was presented with the “Justice Gene Franchini Golden Gavel Award.” The honor recognizes “any adult individual who has demonstrated exemplary dedication and commitment to the goals and ideals of the national high school mock trial program.”
“We were very pleased that Doris was selected to receive this award, which is similar to a lifetime achievement award. She has been instrumental in the success of Nebraska teams thanks to her work year after year on the Nebraska Mock Trial competition,” Cooper said.
The Prep team consisted of four seniors, three juniors and one sophomore, so potentially half will be around next year to carry on.
They finished 36th out of 46 teams. The top three winners were teams from North Carolina, Michigan and Georgia.
“Their final place doesn’t really reflect how well they performed,” Cooper said. In each of the four rounds of competition, Prep came within a kitten’s whisker of winning. They won the first round by one point in the complicated scoring system. In the second round, they faced a “terrific Seattle Prep team.”
That was on Friday. On Saturday, they lost two rounds, the first by one point then another by two points.
“In both Saturday trials, we got more points than the other team. Overall, we had more points than seven of the top 15 teams, and more points than the potential no. 3 team,” Cooper said.
So while everything fell their way at the state competition, all those extremely close trials fell the other way at nationals. “We really performed well. We’re very proud of our students, who worked very hard,” he said.
So, Prep lost by inches, but – there’s always next year!