The Big Comeback
~Returning or rebuilding, champions are forged in the
2006 MSBA Mock Trial Competition; the second in a three-part series~
As MSBA's 2006 Mock Trial Competition barrels towards the Robert C. Murphy
Court of Appeals in Annapolis, Maryland – the home of the program's State
Semi-Finals and Finals on April 27 and 28 – the playoff field seems quite
deep as relative newcomers are paired against seasoned veterans.
Stephen Decatur High School from Worcester County won the First Circuit's
championship while neighboring Wicomico County sends James M. Bennett High
School to the playoffs as the representative of the Second Circuit; 2004 State
Champion Park School enters the playoffs as the winner of the Third Circuit
and 2003 State Champion Elizabeth Seton High School comes in fresh off a Seventh
Circuit championship; Allegany High School upset favored Bishop Walsh High
School for the Fourth Circuit's championship and Severna Park High takes part
in the competition as the Fifth Circuit winner.
The most notable veteran team left in the competition is defending State
Champion (and 2006 winner of the Sixth Circuit) Richard Montgomery High School.
The ever-so proficient team is scheduled to match up against Baltimore City
College High, champion of the Eighth Circuit. Despite Richard Montgomery's
unbounded success within the last decade, to overlook City College may prove
to be a season-ending mistake, as they represent the circuit that has had the
Once the circuit with most participating teams in State competition, Baltimore
City's Circuit fell into a lull in recent years; this year, however, the circuit
experienced a Renaissance with seven teams participating – the most in
nearly a decade – and two of those teams, The Bryn Mawr School and Baltimore
Freedom Academy, fielding a team in the competition for the first time ever.
Competing against Bryn Mawr and the Freedom Academy were Gilman, Friends, Roland
Park, Boys Latin and City College.
Helping to spark some of the Eighth Circuit's revived participation was MSBA's
Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP) for the Schools of Maryland,
which organizes the annual mock trial program.
"We [CLREP] make a concerted effort with the City schools every year to get
them involved in our programs," notes Shelley Wojciechowski, Assistant Director
of CLREP, "and mock trial is the most difficult one [to get schools to participate
City schools are more reluctant to participate in the mock trial program
due to a perceived lack of interest on the part of students – which was
the case for Baltimore Polytechnic Institute dropping its team approximately
five years ago. Another setback for schools taking part in the program is the
lengthy season for mock trial, which overlaps with several sports' seasons,
thus eliminating student athletes from participating.
Furthermore, the lack of financial support for the program's necessities,
such as transportation, adds to the growing obstacles. For example, the Teacher-Coaches
for City College and the Freedom Academy (the only two public schools participating
in the mock trial competition) had to transport their teams to each match and
then back to the students' homes.
"You can't fault the schools; there is just no budget," explains Wojciechowski. "The
buy-in is not there. [Teachers and Administrators think the] students won't
stay with it."
Yet, there are schools in the circuit which are eager to become involved
in a program that promotes critical thinking skills and team concepts to its
students. The Freedom Academy, which opened in 2003, has been interested in
the programs since day one but had to allow for its student body to build before
it could field a competitive team.
"We make it not about the competition but about developing skills to get
better at the competition,"
says Tiffany Harvey, co-coach for the Freedom Academy and a third-year law
student at the University of Maryland.
Harvey – along with Moyan Kettle, also a third-year law student at
the University of Maryland – came to the school last year as a volunteer
teacher in the Juvenile Education Clinic. Both began teaching Criminal Law
and have moved to teaching Mock Trial Advocacy. The class consists of 20 students,
all of whom participate on the mock trial team. For the first year of competition,
the teachers feel that big strides have been made for not only the students,
but themselves as well.
"The kids understand the concepts and effort and time you need to put into
each case; each part of the trial is getting better as we progress," notes
Harvey. "Plus, I'm getting the opportunity to see how to communicate what we
do at law school to kids."
Despite going 0-6 in competition, Harvey and Kettle have plenty to look forward
to in 2007. Due to the Freedom Academy's youth on the team (the school currently
only has ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-grade, with twelfth to be added in the
fall of 2006), this year's participants are gaining experience that will be
a valuable asset come next year's competition.
While Freedom Academy's success is quite profound for both the school and
the Mock Trial Competition, CLREP continues to look forward. According to Wojciechowski,
the organization will attempt to increase school participants by one each year,
and slowly rebuild the Baltimore City Circuit back into the powerhouse of old.