Brookfield Central's mock trial team took first place in the state finals on March 9. Pictured, front row, from left: Jana Gharia, Greta Stalter, Alisha Saeed, Max Hsu (pictured on an iPad). Back row, from left: Teacher-coach Jon Vogt, team co-captain Abbey Prudlow, Ben Kim, team co-captain Cynthia Lu.
March 10, 2022 – The
State Bar of Wisconsin High School Mock Trial Tournament, held virtually for the second year in a row, declared its 2022 winner recently: Brookfield Central High School.
On March 5 and 6, 12 teams from across the state gathered for the competition’s semi-final rounds to decide which two teams faced each other in the championship finals, held on March 9.
The Brookfield Central High School (Lancers) team won the finals round against Madison West. The team is headed (virtually) to Kalamazoo, Michigan, in May to compete in the National tournament. This year is the first time the Lancers made it to the finals round – and the first time they took first place.
To one observer, one word sums up the competitors’ performances: “Wow.” Licensed Wisconsin attorneys and judges score (judge) the performances of each team, comprised of mock defense and plaintiff attorneys cross-examining witnesses who provide key testimony to make or break the case.
One scoring judge, a litigation attorney giving feedback to two teams of high school students at the end of a semi-finals round, said: “My firm would gladly hire you as litigators.”
The students gain experience in critical thinking, adapting in the heat of the moment, and learning to work under pressure. “Those skills are valuable no matter what you do,” said
Kendall Harrison, an attorney with Godfrey & Kahn in Madison.
One of four attorney-coaches for Madison West’s three mock trial teams, Harrison was honored in this year’s case by the program’s Casewriting Committee.
In 2021, Harrison coached the Madison West team, via Zoom, in the semi-finals round while in a hospital’s intensive care unit – a real demonstration of his devotion to the team.
Brookfield Central's team attorney and co-captain Cynthia Lu gives the closing for the defense during the state final round March 9, held via Zoom. Following the match, Lu said, "Mock Trial has given me so much. If you would have told me we would be winning a state championship a few years ago I never would have believed it! I am so humbled and honored to have been a co-captain for this record-breaking team, and I am so proud of everyone!"
These Students Are Already Great Competitors in the Courtroom
The mock trial program, made possible with grants from the
Wisconsin Law Foundation, provides high school students with an opportunity to act as attorneys and witnesses in a court case developed by State Bar members.
Students argue the case in teams of 6 to 12 members. After scrimmage rounds early in the year, they compete formally at the regional level – 88 teams competed this year.
Those teams were narrowed to 12 at semi-finals with the top two teams competing at the state finals. The top team (Brookfield Central) will go on to compete in the
National High School Mock Trial championship in May.
Competitors include well-prepared, poised attorney-students who lobby objections back and forth like tennis balls, arguing their side while referring to the appropriate rules, all while thinking quickly.
The witness-students use their acting skills to embody a fictional character undergoing examination and cross-examination on the stand, each bringing the character to life with their own mannerisms and humor. Underlying their actions is a key strategy: Use up as much of the opponent’s time (a total of 40 minutes per team per round) as possible.
All the students on both finalist teams, Harrison said, “performed beautifully. … Brookfield Central did a really nice job on what objections to make, when they were appropriate, and how to argue them. Our students responded very well, doing a fantastic job on their objections.”
The Madison West team placed second in the state finals. They competed via Zoom from the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn. From left: Simon Yang, Maddie Uphoff, Eliza Miller, Alex Zuehlke, Emmy Anderson, Lily Mefford, Alia Carpenter, Anna Field, Molly Sugar, Ari Blehert, Brynn Ronk, Caleb Ellenberg
Building these Skills Takes Time and Motivation
Seven team members competed for Brookfield Central this year. Their coach is
Jon Vogt, a U.S. history teacher. While the team has had attorney-coaches on and off since its founding 10 years ago, Vogt is their sole coach this year.
Their 2022 mock trial season actually began last June, when two team members from last year organized a summer league to keep their skills sharp and to teach new team members. “We were able to hit the ground running,” Vogt said.
The team took top in their region, in semi-finals, and now the finals. “We've seen a tremendous improvement in the team's performance. This year, we began an official middle-school mock trial league, and we are looking for more schools to participate,” Vogt said.
Students continually worked hard to improve in between tournament rounds. “Even during the regular season, there isn't much of a gap between the first and last teams,” Vogt said. “A few statements here or there can significantly impact the outcome, so that is what makes the activity exciting.”
In the end, it is up to the students to adjust their strategies. The team members, he said, “are virtually unflappable and deal with the in-trial situations better than most adults likely would.”
“We have a game plan for each trial, but since the students are on their own during the competition, they have to adjust to different judges and opposing counsel and witnesses,” Vogt said. “I am always impressed with how they can take feedback between rounds and seamlessly implement it during the very next trial.”
In the semifinals competition March 3 via Zoom, Carmelo Knight argues an objection as an attorney for the Golda Meir High School team in Milwaukee.
Achievement Is Commonplace Among These Students
This year’s fourth-place team was from Golda Meir High School in Milwaukee. The team includes
Sidney McDuffie, a junior who has participated as an attorney for three years and may pursue a legal career.
“I love mock trial because it challenges my critical thinking skills,” McDuffie stated. “Throughout the experience, I get to work through interesting problems with skilled peers and begin to understand the complexity of court cases. When I was first introduced to mock trial my freshman year, I was welcomed by a wonderful team of critical thinkers and coaches that encouraged and supported that thinking. Each year, we enter the season determined to do better than the year before, and each year, we've significantly improved! It's always so rewarding at the end of the season to see our hard work pay off!”
Carmelo Knight, is also pondering a possible career involving criminal defense. His performance as a team attorney included some well-argued objections. Whether he will pursue law or architecture as a career, “mock trial gets me ready for what I plan to do in the future,” Carmelo said.
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.
Mock trial, he said, “allows me to really think and use my critical thinking to form cases. It's fun to attempt to persuade the judge, it's fun to debate about objections, and it's fun to notice little things in the case with the team.”
Fun for Adults, Too
Why take the time to help out the students and keep the mock trial program going?
“It’s fun. It does take time to work with the students because there’s a steep learning curve for the skills needed. We want to make sure they enjoy it and get the skills they need – which takes a long time,” Harrison said.
In addition to helping the students learn the necessary skills, “I enjoy seeing the development students make from trial to trial and year to year as they progress through their careers,” said Vogt.
“I meet some students for the first time in high school, and others are in our mock trial program from the time they are in sixth grade," Vogt said. "Either way, it's very enjoyable to see their growth and success.”
Interested in volunteering for mock trial next year? Whether you’re interested in coaching a team or judging in next year’s tournament, contact Katie Wilcox, State Bar customer & consumer services manager, at
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.