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Mock trial team prepped for national success

John Stroud

May 2, 2011

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Don’t think of the Glenwood Springs High School mock trial team members as a bunch of lawyer wannabes, although there might be some pretty good future lawyers in the making here.

The range of skills they have learned as they prepare for the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Phoenix this coming weekend can easily be applied to just about any profession they choose to pursue.

“People tend to think we all have ambitions to be lawyers, and that isn’t necessarily true,” said senior team member Alex Pototsky, who wants to be a screenwriter.

It was Alex’s lawyer dad, though, former prosecutor turned Garfield County Court Judge Jon Pototsky, who encouraged him to join mock trial as a sophomore.

“I feel like I can take all of the different skills I’ve learned – public speaking, writing, the dramatic aspects – and apply it to whatever I end up doing,” Alex Pototsky said, just before a scrimmage with some of the younger team members last week at the Garfield County Courthouse to get ready for this week’s competition.

“I was even having a daydream where I was giving my pitch for a screenplay and I was able to adapt to the questions because of this experience,” he said.

Fellow senior team member Isabel Carlson is planning to go to college and study to be a forensic anthropologist.

“It’s really helpful in whatever you do to be able to speak on your feet, and adapt to the things around you,” she said. “Being in mock trial really helped me to come out of my shell through high school.”

Pototsky and Carlson will be joined by fellow seniors Chuck Bergren-Aragon, Joseph Ciborowski and Hope Whitman, and sophomore team members Erica Arensman, Grace Gamba and Eileen Klomhaus, at the national competition.

The team won the Colorado State Mock Trial Championship in March to earn the right to represent Colorado at nationals, where 44 teams will compete for the title. Glenwood Springs High has won several state titles over the years and made three appearances at nationals in the early 2000s, placing second in 2003.

“We expect to win,” a confident Pototsky said.

Team coach Charlie Willman believes this team could just have what it takes to win a national championship.

“They’ve been doing a great job getting prepared, and are going there to try to win a national championship for the high school and themselves,” said Willman, who has been involved with the program for several years.

The teams were provided with the case they will be arguing on April 1, giving them five weeks to prepare instead of the four months they had to prepare for the case they argued at the state competition.

For nationals, they will be dealing with the hypothetical civil case of the D’Baha Indian Tribe v. Intrepid Mining Corp. In the case, the tribe is claiming a uranium mine expansion on reservation lands would violate their lease agreement with the mine company and further contaminate their water supply.

Team members typically specialize in the role of either an attorney or a witness, but the teams don’t know until right before each round of the competition which side of the case they will be arguing.

So, preparation involves becoming familiar with both the plaintiff and defense arguments, Willman explained.

“I think we’re going to do well,” Carlson said. “We knew we were a strong team by the time we went to state, and we’ve put in a lot of hours preparing for this.”

Arensman said all the late nights of practice have been worth the opportunity to compete at nationals. She and Bergren-Aragon both gave up one of their other passions as part of the Be Heard youth television program to concentrate on mock trial.

“I just love the atmosphere of being on a team, and working to build good chemistry with each other,” Arensman said.

She said she also enjoys playing soccer, which she also gave up this spring to focus on mock trial. But even with that, she said she enjoys the team dynamic more than the sport itself.

“It felt really surreal at first being part of the first team, but I’m so excited to be able to go to nationals,” Arensman said, referring to the varsity A Team that will be competing.

With a couple of years of high school yet to decide what she wants to study in college, Arensman isn’t ruling out law.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” she said. “It is nice to have this as a background, but there are lots of things that appeal to me at this point.”

Willman said a strong parent contingent will be on hand to support the team at nationals. The teams will be able to scrimmage each other when they first arrive, before the official competition rounds begin on Friday.

The teams will compete in two rounds each on Friday and Saturday, before the finalists are determined for Saturday afternoon’s championship round. The final round will take place in the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Phoenix.

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