Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2006

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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 strongest resurgence.

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 in]."

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.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April 2006

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