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Mock trial team makes winning a practice

Carrie Click

Mar 8, 2004

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” In a third-year sweep, the Glenwood Springs High School Mock Trial Team took top honors at the state championships this weekend at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Golden.

Next stop? Orlando, Fla., for the national mock trial championships May 6-9.

“These kids really deserve recognition,” said Charlie Willman, a Glenwood Springs attorney and one of the team’s coaches. “What they’ve done is extremely difficult.”

What they did was compete against 77 high school teams throughout Colorado. And unlike high school sports teams that are divided for competition according to student body population, Glenwood’s team competed against all schools regardless of size.

In fact, Glenwood took state in a close match with Regis High School, a large, class 5A school from Aurora.

“It’s very unusual,” Willman said of Glenwood’s three-peat status at state mock trials. “It’s the first time since the mid-’80s that a team has done that consistently well in Colorado.”

What is mock trial?

Victor Zerbi is currently a Glenwood Springs municipal court judge and a retired Garfield County court judge. He started Glenwood High’s mock trial team 11 years ago.

“I was asked to be a mock trial judge at the regional level on the Western Slope,” he said, “and that’s when I discovered Glenwood didn’t have a team.”

At the time, Zerbi’s daughter was a Glenwood High student, so he decided to start a local team.

“But I got hooked,” he said, “Thought I’d do this a year or two, though almost a dozen years later, I’m still here.” (See box.)

In mock trial, teams are given a “problem” ” that is, a fictitious situation being argued in court. Working with judges and lawyer coaches, team members develop a knowledge of law, and the art of the persuasive argument.

“They learn to think critically, and on their feet,” said Willman.

At the regional championships, team members act as lawyers and witnesses and are pitted against other teams that have been given the same problem ” though neither team knows until the last minute whether they’ll be defending the case or prosecuting it.

A panel of judges scores the teams based on their ability to successfully argue for or against their case, and teams progress forward based on those scores.

For state competition, Glenwood’s teams argued a problem ” the fictitious case of a disabled man suing a television news station for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“They knew this material and had to memorize their arguments,” said Willman. “And they also had to react to questions from the opposing team ” some we might not have thought of, so they had to reason their positions on the spot. That’s what makes a winning team.”

Not only creating future lawyers

Zerbi said mock trial does a lot more than just train future lawyers for their profession.

“By participating in mock trial, kids get used to speaking in a public forum,” explained Willman.

“It allows them to focus on a language and a culture that many citizens know nothing about,” said Zerbi. “It also gives these students a strong work ethic, and allows them to critically evaluate situations and make a point whether they are in a hospital, a school or a construction site. And it dispels many of the myths surrounding law they may see on television.”

Willman said mock trial practices are held after school and start in mid-September. Practices run weekly throughout the school year. More than 25 local attorneys volunteer to work with the team to prepare them for competition.

Team 1 ” First place

Caitlin Barnes, Carlyn Farquhar, Aaron Rowland, Shelby Sadler, Scott Strauss, Mitch Trebesh, Abby Willman, Jacob Ziemann

Team 2 ” Seventh place

Angie Bichick, Anna Hakanson, Zach Hallford, Graham Jackson, Sarah Lewis, Zak Parsons, Dylan Walters, Abri Yawa

Overall team coach and Team 2 coach: Victor Zerbi; Team 1 coach: Charlie Willman; Team 1 law advisors: Ruben Hernandez, Ken Jaynes, Paul Metzger; Team 2 law advisors: Barb Kozelka, Melody Massih, Amanda Maurer, Tim Thulson, Dennis Walters. Faculty team sponsor: Wes Burke

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