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GSHS mock trial as strong as ever

Will Grandbois

Mar 20, 2015


Team One

Rorey Freeman, Ben Neiley, Valarie Flores, Evan Carrington, Kira Willis, Cassidy Creer, Maggie Rosen

Team Two

Lindsay Rachesky, Ben Liotta, Ryan Myler, Kristen Bates, Alex Rachesky, Grace Nilsson, Vanessa Davila

Team Three

Mae Houston, Sophia Hayes, Emma Harbour, Erin Bucchin, Nate Hassell, Cheney Underwood, Caleb Wexler

Team Four

Tess Lange Burns, Chandler Hagerman, Brook Long, Hannah Slack, Ellie Moser, Leslie Padilla, Mikey Willis

Over the last two decades, Glenwood Springs High School’s mock trial program have rejected their status as underdogs and become the team to beat.

After dominating the regional tournament, two Glenwood teams will travel to Colorado Springs at the end of the week to defend last year’s state title.

“My theory has always been that we’re David against Goliath. We’re not supposed to win. But down there, we’re the target now,” said local attorney and coach Charlie Willman.

Unlike most school competitions, mock trial doesn’t have separate conferences for different size schools. Glenwood students compete with big public schools and elite private schools from across the state. Time and again, they come out on top. The school has won an unprecedented six state championships and has acquitted itself well in national competitions, as well.

“It’s pretty remarkable that a small public school is competing at this level,” said Willman. ”At the top end, it’s really, really competitive.”

It’s not scored the way you might think.

“You don’t play a round to win the trial. It’s all performance based,” Willman explained.

Each side provides attorneys and witnesses, and judges assign points accordingly.

“Without the witness, the attorneys wouldn’t be able to do anything,” observed sophomore Evan Carrington.

That’s OK, because the goal is much more than just teaching law.

“This is not a program to develop young attorneys,” longtime coach Vic Zerbi said. “It’s a program to develop a whole bunch of skills they’ll use whatever they do.”

That includes thinking on their feet, speaking in public, and working as a team.


More than one of the team members called it the best thing they did in high school.

“I think it’s one of the smartest choices I ever made,” said senior Cassidy Creer.

Zerbi would like to see more Western Slope schools fielding teams.

“The more competition you have, the better they’ll do when they go to state,” he said.

The program is relatively inexpensive, and has been well supported by the community.

“The first time we went to the national tournament, we went out to the community and within 48 hours we had our money,” Zerbi recalled.

Still, it can be hard for schools to keep a program running at a small school.

“It’s sometimes hard for schools to keep up the interest,” said Tony Hershey, who coaches team two. “Teams come and go.”

Rifle High School once fielded six teams, but was down to one at regionals this year — though it gave Glenwood a good fight. Roaring Fork performed well last year, but didn’t participate in mock trial this year.

The coaches have a strong sense that success breeds success.

“It’s a community pride thing,” Hershey said. “Kids get interested in it because it’s successful.”

Willman agreed.

“Some of it is getting these kids to know that they can take on any other school and in the nation and beat them,” he said. “That’s what I tell them. There’s no reason just because you come from a small high school in a small state you can’t be the best of the best.”


Although the students get the bulk of the credit, it wouldn’t be possible without strong leadership.

“What our coaches are really good at is finding that talent, capturing it and turning it into something meaningful,” senior Ben Neiley said. “The amount of time they put in to our success is unparalleled.”

Hershey thinks that starts with Willman.

“I think it’s a style of coaching that Charlie does from the top that filters down,” he said.

Willman, for his part, credits Zerbi for setting the tone and fostering new talent.

Although he has plenty of faith in Willman and the newer coaches, Zerbi just can’t seem to move on.

“I drop out every year, and then I come back,” he said. “There was always another group coming in, and you get really close to them. It’s really neat watching them grow up.”

They feel the same way about each other.

“Leaving high school, this will be the thing I think about most,” senior Rorey Freeman said. “The group of people I met doing it are not people I will forget.”


That camaraderie helps in the courtroom, too.

“We don’t have to do it alone,” said senior Maggie Rosen. “We all work together.”

Which isn’t to say they’re not exceptional students in their own right.

“We tend to get the best and the brightest,” said Willman. And this year’s team is as strong has the school has seen. “They were excellent last year, but in my view they’re even better this year,” Willman said.

Team one features five returning members of last year’s state championship team. In their quest to take state and move on to nationals, they will benefit from experience, strong work ethic, teamwork, knowledge of procedure, and ability to adapt.

They also have something to prove.

“Knowing what it feels like to be a state champion increases the pressure because you want that feeling again,” Freeman said.

Ultimately, Neiley says, it’s not the school’s history of excellence that drives the team members, but their own.

“We’ve made a legacy for ourselves,” he said. “We want to be as good as we know we can be. We want to be as good as us.”

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