I <3 MHS Mock Kids!

Mock Trial lost Round 5 (Regional Finals) today after five and a half months of intense work; if they’d won, they’d have gone to State next week (in Duluth).  As it is, we’re done.

The score was 253 to 245.  Yes, we lost by only eight points (and one of the judges had us dead even).

However, we also won.  Here’s how:

First of all, it was the Minneota kids—especially Casey—who stayed behind and put the courtroom back together and made sure everything of ours (including some papers left behind by the other team) was removed, and all chairs put back, etc. as we’re instructed (and which is only common sense).  They double-checked the jury room where we all store our stuff and change, as usual.

Secondly, before the trial today (which started an hour late because the second judge couldn’t make it, but that’s another story), Pam, our attorney coach, called and made reservations at the Pizza Ranch in Pipestone for our team afterward.  When we did show up—and our kids were in great spirits even in disappointment—the other (winning) team had, uh, taken our reservation.

Pizza Ranch apologized profusely for the mistake—anyone could make it, we assured them—and worked their butts off to make room for us during their rush.  They wound up putting some tables together in the back hallway for most of the kids, and none of our kids complained at all even after waiting along a wall for room.

In fact, the manager came up to Pam and me later and said that she’d gone back to apologize to the kids for making them sit back there.  Our kids all said it wasn’t a big deal, and one of them said, “Oh, it’s okay…this way we can bond!” and the manager was so impressed by this good attitude that she sent them back a dessert pizza all their own.

Jon made a point of thanking the manager for the extra work, adding that because his family runs a bar and restaurant he knows what it’s like to have large groups come in and cause problems—to which the manager said our kids were a class act.

Our kids were so well-behaved that the Pizza Ranch sent them away with frisbees *and* discount coupons for their next visit (and Pam, who paid for ALL our meals, was given a discount).

As I told the kids on the bus home, they may have lost the trial, but they won all our hearts (yeah, yeah, too sweet, but really…I’m so very, very impressed with these kids!)

This was a group of 19 teenagers who’d just lost a heartbreaking competition after months of work (and two weather-related postponements), in a packed public restaurant *not* in their town.  Yet, they chose to smile, be polite to those around them (especially the hardworking folks at the restaurant), and have a good time without bothering anyone else.  And I wasn’t surprised in the least–I’m used to this from them.

I absolutely could not be prouder of these kids.

*  And yes, the blog title is supposed to be somewhat satirical of soi-disant silliness, but the rest of the blog is serious.

Mock Trial Awesomeness

Mock Trial Awesomeness

Mock Trial Silliness

Mock Trial Silliness

Mock Rocks, but the Judging Often Does Not

This is my fifth year coaching Mock Trial at MHS; a former student of mine asked me to help her get the program going that summer of 2004.  We petitioned the school board after gathering information, and I finished that year with eight students–the bare minimum–who were willing to put in the time and effort.

We did very well our inaugural year—made it to fourth round.  And, as I recall, I was in the hospital for at least one of the rounds.

What a year!

In the years since, the team has expanded–I’m on my second year of two teams, and I have 21 students involved right now in grades 9-12.  We’ve done well every year, last year coming within a few points of going to State.

I believe in this program.  Those involved learn confidence, logic, critical thinking, and their ability to communicate ideas and perspectives increases dramatically.  Poise, civility, the ability to not express anger at bad judging…all of that is important.

These kids start their work in late September/early October, and practice several times a week for four months.  We generally meet evenings, weekends (countless hours in a neighboring Courthouse on Saturdays practicing), Christmas vacation.  They write, they edit, they memorize, they research, they perform.

All that for only two guaranteed trials.  Months and months of work for about three hours’ total performance time (though we usually move on to further rounds).

So, what’s my gripe?

All this work, and we pay the State Bar $250 per team, and they do, indeed, try very hard to make things run smoothly, but I’m always astounded at how little the official judges (mostly lawyers volunteering their time) actually know.  We have more terrible judges than good ones, unfortunately, and it’s been that way every year.  (Again, it’s not the State Bar’s fault–Emily Reilly, head of the state’s Mock Trial program for a few years now, works her butt off and she’s got things running soooo much more smoothly than her predecessor–she’s my hero!)

They, more often than not, do not know the differences in rules between Mock Trial and real courtroom behavior. They don’t allow responses to objections (even though it’s in the rules and that’s how we’re supposed to score points), they don’t know the time limits, they don’t know how we’re guided to introduce exhibits.

They don’t know how the scoring works–last year, we had a nice judge who agreed, afterward, that my team had kicked major butt over the other team, but didn’t want the other team to feel bad so she awarded points only a few numbers apart.  She wasn’t aware–it hurts to even say this–that we advance rounds by the total *differential* between scores, not just by winning.  When I informed her, she was horrified by what she’d done, but couldn’t change it.

They don’t follow procedure, often, and even those that claim to have several years’ experience seem oblivious to the basic rules, much of the time.

And, perhaps most onerous, every trial is supposed to have two judges–that helps alleviate some of the subjectivity and lack of knowledge of rules.  So, how often do we, out here in the rural world, actually get two judges?

In five years, I could probably count on one hand the number of trials, during rounds 1 and 2, that we’ve had two judges.  It’s to the point where we coaches are pleasantly surprised when we see two there.

So, my kids get shortchanged.  It’s not just about winning or losing–my varsity team won on Wednesday, as well they should have–but about missing chances to use what they’ve learned.  It’s about their having donated hundreds of hours of time, plus money to participate, to have to be subject to the off-rules whims of lawyers who don’t know what’s up.

Is this a good object lesson about how life isn’t always fair, and we need to learn to rise above it?  Absolutely.

And I also am grateful that these lawyers and judges donate their time for a program that involves driving to other courtrooms, spending a couple of hours listening to novices try a case, scoring and offering comments, when they could be doing something more fun or lucrative.

But is it too much to ask that they know the rules?  That they know how to freaking SCORE (especially since guides are readily available at the state website, and scoring rules are clearly delineated)?

It breaks my heart every time I see my kids shot down without warrant simply because the Judge wasn’t aware of the rules.  At the same time, I’m inevitably so very proud of my kids when they accept such judgements with equanimity and respect, as they’ve learned, even if it’s not right.

I love my Mock kids.  But for this kind of time and money, I want well-trained judges, especially when everything rides on just two trials after months and months of work.