WILMINGTON – St. Mark’s has produced another state championship team, yet you won’t find this one on a court, but in one.
The school’s 10-person mock trial team will travel to the National High School Mock Trial competition May 3 in Albuquerque, N.M., after defeating six-time defending Delaware champion Charter School of Wilmington in February. It was St. Mark’s 10th state title, but its first since 2004.
In mock trial, the teams are presented with a case, with one side acting as the prosecution and the other the defense. The winner is determined by which team presents its case the best according to the judges.
“For lawyers, (it’s) the objections that you raise, for witnesses, how well you know your character and how well you portray your character. It’s not necessarily about obviously winning the case,” said senior Matthew Conrad, who earned the gavel for best attorney in the final round against Charter.
Brian Coyle, a senior who portrayed a witness in the state competition and will do so again in Albuquerque, said the team receives all the information it needs about the upcoming case and practices based on that. As a witness, he needs to stick basically to the script he is given.
“You have a little liberty, but you have to stick to what’s written there because if you say something off the script, they can come back to you and say you didn’t say that in the affidavit. And you have to know it a lot because they’ll drill you on the little details,” he said.
The win over Charter was especially satisfying because the school had been on top for so long, Conrad said.
“It was pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie, to go against our rival school, so to speak, and it was just a great feeling,” he said. “To win it all, regardless of who it was, was great, but beating Charter did make it a little nicer. They were a tough team to beat, so to be able to prove ourselves against a team that was incredible was good.”
Winning the state title should help St. Mark’s in the future, said Rebecca Hines, one of two faculty moderators. It exposes the team to a higher level of competition that it can’t always get in Delaware alone.
In Albuquerque, the team will be facing opponents who in some cases have had to go through regional tournaments before winning at the state level, said the other faculty moderator, Rosa Iacono. That presents an extra challenge for St. Mark’s, she said.
“We have a little bit of a, I don’t want to say disadvantage, but we’ve only been through the state competition. We haven’t seen as much,” she said.
The teams will come from across the United States, Guam, the Northern Mariana Island and South Korea.
In the case that will be presented in New Mexico, a man is found dead with a gunshot wound to his heart. The man is identified as a private investigator tracking down leads suggesting that an energy company was siphoning off millions of cubic meters of natural gas that was never reported to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and on which millions of dollars in royalties were never paid. The story ends up in a United States District Court with a powerful politician standing trial for solicitation of murder.
Along with Conrad and Coyle, the other members of the team are senior Kaitlin O’Connor; juniors Victor Anderson, Zachary Boulden, Kristopher Moore, Michael Williams, John Slights and Daniel Gildea; and sophomore Wesley Bak. Slights won the gavel for best witness in the final round of the state competition.
The team has been practicing several nights a week at St. Mark’s, including over spring break since it only had three weeks or so to prepare. Hines and Iacono, both foreign languages teachers, are assisted by one parent who is a judge and three other lawyers.
“We’re learning the language of law now,” Hines joked.
Mock trial has flown under the radar at St. Mark’s, but after the state championship, it has generated some buzz around the school.
“Students who otherwise would never have been interested or maybe know nothing about mock trial, it’s really caught their attention,” Iacono said.
Added Conrad, “I think there’s more of a respect for it, for what we actually do, all the practice, all the thought that goes into it.”
Mock trial exists at the college level, but the University of Delaware, which Conrad and Coyle both will attend, does not have a club. Conrad said he was talking to other UD-bound students at the state competition about starting one.
“It would be a really good team,” Coyle said.