BHS mock trial team heads to state tournament
Nine students. None whom have worked together. Only one who has competed on a mock trial team. A team that shouldn't be so good--but is. The team--the Brainerd High School mock trial. The Brainerd team beat Pequot Lakes Feb. 16 in the regional fi...
None whom have worked together.
Only one who has competed on a mock trial team.
A team that shouldn't be so good-but is.
The team-the Brainerd High School mock trial. The Brainerd team beat Pequot Lakes Feb. 16 in the regional finals to advance to the state tournament, which will take place Friday and Saturday at the Stearns County Courthouse in St. Cloud. Twelve mock trial teams will compete at state and are guaranteed to participate in three separate trials and the winning teams will advance to the championship trial.
BHS Mock Trial Coach Jan Carlson said all nine students on the team are new to mock trial with the exception to one student-BHS senior Stefanie Maas-who competed at her former high school Watertown-Mayer High School, before moving into the Brainerd School District. Maas said Watertown-Mayer went to state two years in a row in mock trial.
Carlson said BHS's mock trial teams went to state in 2014 and 2015, but did not have a team compete last year.
"These kids have never been in a courtroom setting, but they came together right away," Carlson said. "They were interested in mock trial and tried hard. They practiced and kept on taking it farther. They won every trial, but lost the second trial, but it was very close. When the students walked out of that trial they were positive and said, 'We learned a lot.' And they kept on improving throughout the season.
"This team shouldn't be this good. I've never seen a team like this (of so many newcomers) get this far. We knew coming in they would have to figure it out, but they have been so amazing."
On the BHS mock trial team are:
• Seniors Maas, who plays the plaintiff and defendant; Luke Norquist, Aly Neistadt and Zoey Heitkotter, who all play lawyers;
• Juniors Josiah Wood and Oksana Goncharenko, who play witnesses;
• Sophomores Jaden Wagoner and Sayali Blowers, who play witnesses, and Mari Hermerding, who is the time keeper.
Coordinated by the Minnesota State Bar Association, the state's high school mock trial program introduces students to the American legal system by creating a fictional case each year that teams across the state work from and develop arguments for. The winner of the state tournament will advance to the national championship, which will be April 21-23 in Los Angeles, Calif.
The case teams will compete against at the state tournament is a civil case, where Chris Jackson, a senior and student council president at John Madison High School, is suing the principal at the high school, for infringing her right to free speech. The case alleges that Jackson attempted to advocate an open campus lunch period and the principal refused to change the school policy on the lunch periods. The student then organized a protest against the school administration on the open lunch policy decision, which included students wearing black armbands and boycotting the school cafeteria's meals. The school then canceled a dance the student council sponsors. Jackson then posted a video online of the protest and it was allegedly a parody of the principal's decision on authority.
As she is the only one with mock trial experience, Maas said she has helped guide the other students on the team. She said at the first practice only three students showed up and after that all the students came together. Maas said everyone on the team has to show up for practice and mock trials, otherwise it doesn't work. She said each student plays a key part on the team and they all have to be there to be successful.
Maas said one of the best pieces of advice she had for the students was for them to act more natural, be more conversational and not read from a script. She also helped guide the students on the legal process and familiarize themselves with all the legal terms and how the process works.
Maas said she joined mock trial because she enjoys acting. She said being in mock trial has helped her with her acting skills and made her better at thinking on her toes. She said at her former high school she was always a witness, but wanted to play the plaintiff/defendant this year.
Wood plays a teacher who is a witness and who defends Maas, who plays Jackson. He said the teacher told the student she should stand up for what she believes in. Wood said the role is easy to play and said the teacher doesn't care much about the administration's argument as he has plans to retire at the end of the school year.
Wood, who joined mock trial because he thought it would be fun, said one of the judges this season gave him kudos for acting so natural.
Norquist said he never was involved in mock trial in his earlier high school years because he was busy with debate, band and other activities. He said Carlson approached him about joining, so he did and he loves it. Norquist likes the analytical side of mock trial and arguing the case. He said being in mock trial has helped his understanding of the legal process, including the legal terms; and that details are important. Norquist said he also has become better at presenting information in different ways for people to understand, such as being more conversational, instead of being technical.
After losing the first mock trial, Norquist said he learned that he had to research more legal terms to become a better mock trial lawyer. He said he hit the books and improved his game.
"I've very happy with how far we have come," Norquist said. "We are ready for state."
Neistadt joined mock trial because she is interested in possibly pursuing a career in the legal field and she wanted to learn more.
"I saw a poster," the senior said when she learned there was a mock trial team. "I had no idea it existed. I normally do a winter sport, but when I saw this I wanted to put my time into this. I wanted to have some life experience of what it would be like to be a lawyer. I want to go into politics, or being a public figure or a lawyer as I have always been interested in law."
Neistadt, who also is involved in Youth in Government, has learned a lot about law and interpersonal communications. She said she has learned how to get a witness state what the lawyer wants them to state.
Neistadt said when she first learned what the case was about she was disappointed because she wanted a criminal case, such as a murder or kidnapping. However, as she learned more about the case, she changed her mind and realized it was an important issue-the rights to free speech, especially as it related to a high school student.
Blowers was in her history class when she overheard a student talking about mock trial and how it is a nice thing to have on a high school resume for college. She thought she'd give it a shot.
"I joined and then learned what mock trial was all about," Blowers said. "I learned about the whole court process and ended up loving it."
Blowers said at first it was tough playing a witness, but as the season went on it became easier as she knew what the lawyers would ask her on both sides of the case. She said she has become more outgoing and assertive being in mock trial. She also is a better speaker.
Attorneys from the Crow Wing County Attorney's Office assisted the mock trial team this year. They were David Hermerding, who was recently appointed as a Ninth Judicial District judge, Ilissa Ramm and Anne Soberg.