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Raising the bar, Rose High sending three teams to state Mock Trial competition

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On the heels of a well-publicized fourth-straight football championship, some other J.H. Rose High School teams are quietly courting a state title.

Rose is sending three teams to the state final in the Wade Edwards High School Mock Trial Competition later this month. If a Rose team wins, the school will make its third consecutive trip to national-level competition.

Already, the teams are raising the bar for the state's Mock Trial program, now in its 15th year.

"We're the first in the state to send three teams to state competition," said Rose senior Pamela Bland, who won best attorney at regional competition in November.

Rose's teams, named for each of the school's three colors, took top honors at regional competitions in Greenville and High Point. (Mock Trial regulations prohibit a school from sending more than two teams to the same regional competition.) A third Rose team, which took second in the Greenville regional contest, was one of seven additional qualifiers invited to the state competition.

"Our goal when we started this season was to get both of them (green and blue teams) to state because Rose had never had two teams at state before," Mock Trial adviser Liza Knight said. "We ran a third team, the white team ... kind of as a J.V. team and let them get experience.

"They just did remarkably well at regional competition and ended up qualifying, too," she said. "They've exceeded all of our expectations."

Twenty-three Rose students will compete in the 16-team state finals, scheduled Jan. 27-28 in Charlotte.

The Wade Edwards High School Mock Trial Competition gives students a chance to learn about the U.S. legal system from legal professionals. Students from across the state take part in mock courtroom competitions, sponsored by the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.

"What it does is it gives the kids a chance to play lawyer," said Robert W. Waddell (Legal Aid of NC - Greenville Office) who volunteers as an attorney adviser for Rose's program. "It's surprising how close it is to what we do in law school."

Attorney Jeffrey Miller, a volunteer adviser with Rose's Mock Trial program since its inception more than a decade ago, said participating in Mock Trial gives students a sense of the American legal system.

"It's not what they see on TV," Miller said. "It's a good bit of hard work. It's not all that much fun sometimes."

Rose teams begin work in early September. Following this year's tryouts, which attracted 60 students, students selected for the school's three teams began preparing their case for regional competition.

The assigned case for this year's competition involves the fictional shooting death of a reality television show host. In the case, the spouse of a contestant who died performing an on-camera stunt is accused of murder.

Students on teams of eight portray 13 different roles in the courtroom, including attorneys, defendant, plaintiff, witnesses and bailiff. Each team is required to present both sides of the case during competition.

To prepare for multiple roles, students practice for about two hours a night, three nights a week at the Pitt County Courthouse. It takes nearly three months to prepare a case.

Rose senior Nemal Patel, who competes on the school's blue team, said legal shows on television don't show the preparation time required.

Waddell agreed. "It's quite the effort," he said.

"They want to be lawyers because of TV shows, and this gives them a chance to realize it's really not like that in the real world."

Some Mock Trial participants, like Elizabeth Davis, hope to pursue careers as attorneys.

"I've wanted to be a lawyer since third grade," she said.

A few of Rose's former Mock Trial participants have gone on to complete law school. Knight estimates as many as half of the current Mock Trial participants are considering the legal profession.

"There's a good number of them that will tell you they're considering law school," she said. "It's funny, some of them will do it and tell me, 'It's made me realize I never want to be an attorney,' and others will do it and say, 'Oh, I definitely want to be an attorney.' It helps them figure it out sometimes."

Miller said the program has a number of benefits, even for students who have no plans to pursue a law career.

"It causes them to think on their feet," he said. "It puts them in positions of public speaking in front of strangers."

Caroline Lawler, a former Rose Mock Trial team member, is now on the Mock Trial team at Wake Forest University. On breaks from college, she often practices with her brother, Thomas, a member of Rose's blue team.

"I think Mock Trial is a really good program, no matter what you want to do after college," Lawler said. "I still don't know if I want to go into law or not, but it definitely helped me become a more confident and outgoing speaker."

Waddell, who considers Mock Trial a team sport, said it has some of the same benefits as being a member of a sports team.

"They develop a sense of camaraderie, team unity," he said. "Like with anything, such as football, it serves them well when they have to go into the work world."

But team member Sarah McCormick said that unlike sports teams, Mock Trial teams get little recognition at school for their accomplishments. Students get no course credit for their participation.

"We don't even get a picture in the yearbook," said McCormick, who won best witness at regional competition. "We were back-to-back state champions, and no one knows it.

"Probably the only reason we do it is for self-gratification."

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