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  • February 16, 2022

    87 High School Mock Trial Teams Compete in Regional Trials by Zoom

    Congratulations to the teams who competed in the 2022 Wisconsin High School Mock Trial regional tournament! The top 12 teams will compete in the finals tournament in March.

    Shannon Green

    Brookfield Academy varsity mock trial team

    Brookfield Academy’s varsity mock trial team members posed for a photo at the school. From left: Akshaya Ganesan, Anushka Guru, Hena Allaqaband, Ayushi Chandel, Harbani Kaur, and Anvesha Guru. They wear sweatshirts with “State of Wisconsin vs. Dorian Grey,” which refers to the 2021 competition ​case.

    Feb. 16, 2022 – The names “Kendall Harrison” and “Spencer Harrison” were in the air all weekend during multiple rounds of the State Bar of Wisconsin High School Mock Trial regional tournament.

    “I never quite got completely used to that,” said Madison attorney Kendall Harrison. Kendall is one of six coaches for the three teams representing Madison West High School. “Almost stranger was watching kids portraying our daughter, Spencer.”

    The case this year uses Kendall’s and Spencer’s names for two of six witnesses. The program’s Casewriting Committee chose to honor Kendall after a stroke left him coaching his team last year in the March 2021 semifinal tournament from an ICU bed in a Madison hospital. Find out more about the Kendall, the case, and the committee.

    Thankfully, Kendall has fully recovered, and spent the weekend tournament hearing quite a few students say and ​spell out his name as part of testimony during the plaintiff’s side of the case. The honor must have inspired the school's team: their Team 1 took first place in their region.

    Trial via Zoom is Nothing New for these Students

    Madison West is one of 12 teams of high school students headed to the semifinal tournament in the State Bar of Wisconsin’s High School Mock Trial competition.

    Shannon Green Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    On Feb. 12 and 13, a total of 87 Wisconsin high school mock trial teams – comprising about 1,000-plus students – competed to determine which teams head to semifinal tournament in March. Each team argued a fictional case, and appeared before a jury of volunteer attorneys who assess their performance and ability to argue their side of the case.

    For the second year and owing to the ongoing pandemic, the regional tournament was held via Zoom.

    The state regional competitions are typically held in locations around the state, with the semifinals and final rounds in Madison. Because of the pandemic in 2020, the tournaments were canceled just before the finals rounds. Competition returned in 2021 via Zoom.

    The online state finals are March 5-6, 2022, with two rounds per day. The state finals are on the evening of March 9, also via Zoom.

    The first-place team will compete in the virtual 2022 National High School Mock Trial Championship, hosted in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

    What It Takes to Compete

    Each mock trial team is led by several teacher, student, and attorney coaches, like Kendall and Jessica Harrison, who are now in their fifth year as Madison West coaches. Currently, in addition to Kendall and Jessica, the school's mock trial coaches are attorneys Mike Anderson and Max Lenz, along with teacher coach Antonio Zappia, team alum Dominic Zappia, and student coach Kyle Fossum.

    "Like a sports program, we try to get new faces every year and teach them what it takes to succeed,” Kendall said. The more experienced students teach the new students to keep it going. “It builds quickly. We’ve got some pretty remarkable students in the program who are sharp and really into it.”

    Madison West students meet formally about three hours per week, with each individual member working on their own part in between meetings. With technologies like Google Drive allowing easy file sharing, the students review each other’s scripts and papers. “They get a lot of feedback, and they learn better that way,” Kendall said.

    Student attorneys write their opening and closing statements and work with those in the witness role to script the witness examinations and cross-examinations. Handling objections can be difficult.

    “We work a lot on making sure our kids understand the rules, and when objections are appropriate and inappropriate,” Kendall said. They learn rules of evidence – which he admits isn’t the most exciting part of the case. “You need to raise objections and respond appropriately. If you can’t, judges will notice.”

    In working closely with the students, attorney coaches like Kendall Harrison learn the effort it takes to put the program and a case together. “We are so appreciative of the work that the committee does. They do that all as volunteers – and it gives these students memories for a lifetime.”

    Madison West student plays Kendall Harrison on Zoom

    Saturday’s opening round pitted two of Ma​dison West's teams against each other, with both teams coached by attorneys Kendall Harrison, among several coaches. In this Zoom screen capture, the witness “Kendall Harrison” is portrayed by student Brynn Ronk.

    An Army of Volunteers, a Surplus of Rewards

    When 87 teams compete simultaneously, it takes an army of volunteer judges – all Wisconsin attorneys and judges – to make it happen. Each round requires a presiding judge and two scoring judges.

    Participating in mock trial helps students “better understand the concept of ‘two sides to every story,’ and develops their logic and critical thinking skills,” said Milwaukee attorney Jennifer Herzog, who returned as a volunteer this year after volunteering a few years ago. “Based on this year's experience, I will definitely volunteer again.”

    This program provides a great opportunity to introduce students to litigation – what that can look like, how it works with arguments and objections, etc.,” said Kelly Martyka, an attorney in South Milwaukee. “It gives a great boost of confidence in public speaking, research skills, preparation, and organization – experiences I wish I had going into law school.”

    Martyka has volunteered for the program for more than a decade, and worked as a scoring judge both days of the tournament. “I am always so impressed by the preparation and talent of the students,” Martyka said. “The students are amazing. Even if they aren't the most prepared or the most trained or the best coached, they absolutely crush it every time. Their hard work is so clear, and their passion for litigation and the law is palpable.”

    Another of the many volunteers includes retired Fitchburg attorney Martin Harrison, who acted as a scoring judge in the regional competition (and happens to be the father of Kendall Harrison – with Martin judging in a region other than the one with Madison Wests’ teams). “Since I did trial work, I feel I can be an effective scoring judge,” Martin said.

    The experience provides a firsthand view of the students’ commitment to the program. “This competition requires them to effectively develop their confidence in dealing with new ideas. What a wonderful experience for students to learn how to gather information and plan strategies to advance their positions,” Martin said.

    “Learning and education are so important in one's life, and mock trial just presents new opportunities for growing,” he said – both for the students, and for the attorney volunteers. “I certainly would ask others to join in this activity as it can be rewarding for all who join in.”

    students from Golda Meir High School in Milwaukee compete with a Reedsburg High School Team

    In this round from Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, students from Golda Meir High School in Milwaukee compete with a Reedsburg High School team. Among the students are two scoring judges, Abigail Rubeor of Chicago (top right) and Karla Chase of Mayville (bottom left), along with the presiding judge, Dodge County Circuit Court Judge Kristine Snow (bottom middle)​​.

    About Mock Trial​​​

    The Mock Trial program provides high school students with an opportunity to act as attorneys and witnesses in a court case developed by State Bar members. Students will argue the case in teams of six to 12 members.

    Wisconsin High School Mock Trial is a State Bar of Wisconsin program funded by the Wisconsin Law Foundation, the charitable arm of the State Bar. Founded in 1983, the program helps students gain a deeper understanding of our legal system while developing leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

    The 2022 Mock Trial Regional Winners

    Congratulations to these teams who will compete in the semifinals:​

    • Arrowhead
    • Brookfield Academy
    • Brookfield Central
    • Golda Meir
    • Lodi
    • Madison West
    • Nicolet
    • Rhinelander
    • Shorewood
    • Superior
    • Waukesha South
    • Whitefish Bay
    Wisconsin Law Foundation

    The Wisconsin High School Mock Trial program is funded by a generous grant from the Wisconsin Law Foundation, the charitable arm of the State Bar of Wisconsin, supporting law-related education and public service programs statewide.

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