Mock Trial heads into the courthouse for county competition

JV and varsity teams vie for top spots against local high schools


The Catalyst / Photo courtesy of Suzanne Sullivan

Senior Kate O’Connor reads over notes for her closing argument as NDB’s Varsity Defense finishes up their trial against Hillsdale.

Since September, the NDB Mock Trial team has been tuning their argumentative skills and building their case. Now, they are right in the thick of competition season, with Round One commencing on January 26, Round Two on February 2 and Round Three set to happen on February 9. For both new and returning team members alike, these competitions bring a balance of nerves and excitement.

NDB’s Mock Trial is made up of three divisions: varsity, JV and showcase, each divided into a prosecution team and a defense team. However, all members have been collectively collaborating throughout the past six months.

At the beginning of the season, the team received their casebook, which gave the details of this year’s theatrically themed crime. In a tense altercation between rival actors Billie Scher and Jordan Franks, Franks supposedly stole Scher’s precious Shakespearean ring and broke Scher’s arm, all while aboard the “Heart of the Ocean” cruise ship.

After thoroughly looking over the contents of the casebook, including the stipulations, witness testimonies and exhibit images, team members received their roles. Some have chosen to argue as pre-trial attorneys, willing to speak directly with the judge about past court cases in order to prove that an exhibit should or should not be allowed for use in the trial. Others have elected to act as trial attorneys and prepare opening and closing statements, witness cross-examination questions and objections. Many take on the essential role of portraying a witness, working to give a convincing performance in order to help their team’s case. Lastly, a few have taken on the role of timekeeper or bailiff, who help the trial run smoothly.

The team has practiced on Mondays and Wednesdays each week and has dedicated multiple weekends to scrimmaging against other high schools, including San Mateo HS, Serra HS, Prospect HS and Oceana HS. Additionally, the JV team competed in the Santa Clara County Invitational on January 10 and January 12 in order to gain extra practice before league competitions began.

Competition trials take place at the Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo, in Redwood City. A practicing judge rules over the trial and scorers are normally practicing or retired attorneys who generously give their time to watch and evaluate participants.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time in two years that competitions are being held in the courtroom, rather than on Zoom, which brings a new and exciting element for team members. Both attorneys and witnesses focused more on their courtroom presence, hand gestures and tone of voice, all of which did not carry as much weight during a virtual trial.

“I think it was definitely a little bit harder because it’s more pressure when you’re speaking in front of more people and you can’t easily have your material there just for safety,” said junior Mallory Moore, who is a JV defense attorney. “I definitely think that I had to be more confident with my memorization going into it, but overall, it was fun.”

Seniors Kate O’Connor and Kayla Hollister receive feedback from a scorer after the Varsity Defense trial against Hillsdale’s Varsity Prosecution.

In both Round One and Round Two, competitors adapted extremely well to the in-person structure.

“I was nervous at first, with it being the first in-person competition for nearly the entire team, but we had a strong start,” said Ella Ebert, one of two captains for the team this year. “We can always improve, but that’s exactly why I’m so hopeful for the rest of the season. I’m proud of the team as we stand, but also of our potential.”

In addition to acting as the first in-person competition for most of the team, Round One was the very first competition for freshman and new JV members. In the seriousness of trial and the weight of six months of preparation, the first time competing can come with a lot of pressure. However, with the outstanding encouragement of their fellow Tigers, new members felt supported throughout their first performance.

“I was really nervous about how my first competition was going to go but once it started, I felt really excited and ready,” said freshman Anna Fox, who plays victim Billie Scher in this year’s case for the JV team. “My teammates were very supportive and they have helped me so much leading up to this year’s competition season. Mock Trial is very much a team sport and NDB’s teamwork is always something I can rely on.”

After Round Two, both the Varsity and JV teams are in a good position for Round Three, with Varsity currently in fourth place after dropping down from third and JV in second place, just behind Hillsdale HS and ahead of Menlo HS, who have both been consistently challenging, toe-to-toe opponents for the team. Ambitions are high going into the last round of competition, with all members hoping to put forth their best performance yet while remaining confident in the work they have done so far to get to this point.

With each powerful line of questioning and emotionally captivating witness testimony, competitors hope to earn an impressive score. However, although scores sometimes seem like the fixated goal and ultimate prize, what the team really strives for is to have fun and improve each week.

“While it’s great that the team can still make Varsity Semifinals and the JV Championship, the best thing is how everyone has grown more confident and had so much fun,” said Mock Trial Head Coach Jonathan Tomczak. “We can’t control how the scorers see us, but . . . what matters most is how they feel when the trial is over. If they enjoy every moment they compete, and feel the same pride for their performance that I always have in them, that’s a win no matter what the score was.”

This season, the team has even adopted a motto, “enjoy every moment, win every moment,” reflecting their joy-oriented ideology. Both Tomczak and the students believe that continually focusing on the enjoyment of preparing, strategizing and competing as a team will propel them to success.

In order to earn a place in the Semifinals, Varsity must keep up their motivation and score well enough in the final round to move up to second place for the top two teams to advance. The JV team is hoping to return to the JV Championship like last year, and is determined to put on an admirable performance in the final round to maintain their second-place position or secure the first-place spot.

The strong, supportive community of the NDB Mock Trial team has helped members reach amazing successes this season and will continue to define the program in the future.