Though the rolling green hills that surround Cumberland's Bishop Walsh High
School could not seem more removed from the urbanized milieu of Richard Montgomery
High School in Rockville, the converse schools do share one distinctive trait:
respective traditions of success in the annual MSBA High School Mock Trial
competition. And with the 2006 season getting underway, these two schools look
to continue their winning-ways behind the steadfast teaching of their coaches,
whom have been the backbone throughout each program's achievements.
For 23 years, the MSBA Mock Trial Competition, organized annually by the
Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP), has pitted high school teams
from across Maryland against one another in an effort to understanding and
appreciation of our legal system in a hands-on forum.
"This has been a nice addition to my teaching career," says Dan Evans, teacher-coach
for the defending state champion Richard Montgomery mock trial squad, thus
far 2-0 this season. "I have grown to love the kids as they hone their skills
and I enjoy the competition."
A government and law teacher, the ever-competitive Evans has amassed an impressive
record in his 17-year career, including the aforementioned championship, coupled
with another in 1994 and 12 circuit championships in the last 14 years.
In Mock Trial competition, participating teams are aligned into eight circuits
(corresponding to the circuit in which the school is located); subsequently,
the best team out of each circuit advances to the playoffs, which is an eight-team,
single-elimination format. The winner is crowned April 28 at the Robert C.
Murphy Court of Appeals in Annapolis, Maryland, the site of the semi-finals
With 134 teams participating this year, approximately 500 reenactments will
take place in circuit courtrooms throughout the state. This year's case is
based on Maryland's reporter-shield law – the right of a reporter to
maintain anonymity for his or her sources in a criminal investigation.
In order for the sixth-circuit Richard Montgomery to become the first-ever
repeat champion and tie Towson High School with the most championships (three),
Evans had to begin forming his team and preparing for this case in December
After culling a 12-person team from the 40-60 students who tried out, Evans
began to formulate his strategy for the competition. He dissected the case
thoroughly, he explains, developing "a clear theory of the case" with arguments
that are concise.
Next came preparing the students for the matches. Evans' team practiced once
a week, while individual meetings were held throughout the week during lunch,
afternoons or even weekends.
"We try to make the kids sound like real lawyers," says Evans. "[During the
match] they have to think on their feet and are not allowed notes. I try to
recruit kids with panache – substance is important but style is needed."
Each year, Evans has consistently had his team in prime condition to compete
at a high level by the start of the season. "He has a knack for getting these
kids to the finals," notes Shelley Wojciechowski, Assistant Director of CLREP. "They
don't just accept a win or loss; they go back and analyze everything – what
they did well, what they didn't do well – and figure out what can we
learn from here."
Of his multitudinous accomplishments, Evans considers building a team-like
atmosphere while the kids construct their analytical skills and enhance their
confidence to be his greatest feat.
"I liken it to an English teacher who helps [his or her] students craft a
paper through four or five drafts," explains Evans.
Bounded by mountains in western Maryland, Bishop Walsh is a strong statewide
competitor, winning its circuit four out of the last five years. Consequently,
the school stands to be a formidable opponent for not only Richard Montgomery
but the entire Mock Trial field.
"We have a strong tradition of excellence here, and it's a high standard
to live up to," says Jim Zamagias, teacher-coach of 7-0 Bishop Walsh.
Twenty years ago, the social studies teacher founded the Mock Trial program
at Bishop Walsh and immediately made an impact, not only on his students, but
on the competition as a whole by winning the state championship in 1989. Since
then, Zamagias' program has maintained its high level of competition.
"We have the mindset of an athletic team," Zamagias adds. "We must be competitive
and practice hard."
Competing in the fourth circuit, Bishop Walsh may have raised more than a
few eyebrows in solidifying itself as a force in the mock trial competition.
Zamagias credits the team's own circuit as the reason this unsuspecting school
competes at such a high level.
"The strength of our circuit helps us in the Annapolis competition,"
notes Zamagias. "Our goal each year is to win our circuit; everything else
is icing on the cake."
Bishop Walsh attorney-coach Brad Reed, Zamagias adds, is another major component
of the program's success. Noted as a "co-coach", Reed attends every practice
and, according to Zamagias, "provides a solid understanding of the legal framework."
The program's preparation is not entirely dissimilar to Richard Montgomery's;
students try out by giving a speech on a controversial topic, then, after a
brief question-and-answer session, Zamagias, along with three other judges,
make cuts. Students who are well-spoken and composed are retained on the 12-person
team. However, Bishop Walsh's practices are held as a team, two hours a day
for three days a week, during the season – prior to the season, practices
are only twice a week.
Part of Bishop Walsh's success is the experience the students have participating
on the team.
"This improves speaking, listening and critical thinking skills," explains
Zamagias. "It also brings together people of various interests…[and]
different backgrounds. The success has been beyond my wildest dreams. It's
Though separated by 120 miles and contrasting cultural identities, these
two schools have and will continue to tread down the same road as they embark
on their lengthy march for Annapolis.