After winning the Massachusetts Bar Association Statewide High School Mock Trial Tournament on March 28, 25 members of the Newton South High School Mock Trial team traveled to the National High School Mock Trial Tournament held in Wilmington, Del., from May 8 to 10.
On their six-hour ride to Wilmington, Del., the Newton South High School Mock Trial team members eschewed the lure of their chartered bus’ DVD player and kept their conversation of AP exams, 80’s rock bands and Cosmo Girl quizzes brief. They chose instead to work on directs, crosses, openings and closings in preparation for their appearance in the National High School Mock Trial Tournament.
When they reached Wilmington, the work continued late into the night. Even their time at the hotel pool — where they landed after discovering that their practice room was too small to accommodate the 25-member team — was spent working. With no lifeguard on duty, the team scrimmaged against the team from Maine as Newton South’s attorney coach, Elliott Loew, judged from a “bench” that bore a strong resemblance to the hotel’s towel-return bins.
“In the state tournament, they could stay in the background more,” said teacher coach Brian Hammel, noting that at nationals, everyone had a role to play, even though the national tournament allows just nine students to compete and be on the official team roster.
At nationals, the students compete in four trials in two days. And unlike the state tournament, they don’t know the trial results until the tournament is over. “You get tired in the middle,” says Alex Soltoff, whose brother Ben was one of the nine official team members, “but everybody did their best to fight the fatigue.” Like most of the students, Soltoff derives energy from “seeing all these other teams from all these other places doing the same thing as you.”
When the students reach the closing awards banquet, they don’t yet know that they have finished 22 out of 42 teams, with a 2-2 record. Only the top 10 finishers are announced at the banquet and when two of the teams Newton South faced finish fourth and fifth respectively, it’s clear that the students are disappointed not to be in the top 10.
Like many on the team, senior Sam Lee takes the news in stride. “There are going to be people who are better at this than you.” he says. “And it’s a good feeling to go to nationals and see so many people who are really committed to Mock Trial.”
Loew and Hammel are working hard to build that sense of commitment in the team. Despite sharing the students’ disappointment at not finishing higher, Loew is confident that the team “learned the one thing we really wanted them to take away from this. They want to come back to nationals again.”
On the bus ride home, there are differing opinions about their performance, their preparation methods, the judging and the proper balance between the legal and theatrical aspects of a mock trial. But there is also time for spirited debate about where “Born to Run” ranks among Bruce Springsteen’s classic songs. Overall, it is clear that the students enjoyed their time in Delaware. “We were the team that came to win,” says senior Josh Larson, “but ended up having fun!”
The 2008 Newton South High School Mock Trial Team