Behind the scenes: Mockers take their trial seriously - Jan 30, 2014 - Human Behavior, Justice and Diversity Department - UW-Superior News and Events

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Behind the scenes: Mockers take their trial seriously

Posted on Jan 30, 2014
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Megan Guptill, right, practices her opening argument in front of Taylor Burm and other mock trial participants. Guptill won outstanding attorney at the Hatting St. Thomas School of Law tournament last weekend.

Megan Guptill, right, practices her opening argument in front of Taylor Burm and other mock trial participants. Guptill won outstanding attorney at the Hatting St. Thomas School of Law tournament last weekend.

IT WAS THE LAST PRACTICE before a big tournament and Coach Maria Cuzzo was giving the UW-Superior squads a pep talk.

"Black, we're in the running now. Gold, it's time to step up to the plate. This is about refining and getting ready for regionals," said Cuzzo, gesturing in the air for emphasis.

There was no ball or puck in sight -- only binders full of evidence. Legal documents. Posters ("demonstratives") and water bottles. All that, and about 20 determined-looking college students.

Forget March Madness. Welcome to February Frenzy, regional tournament season in competitive college Mock Trial, where more than 5,000 undergraduates across the United States match wits on a court that's a mock, or sometimes, real, courtroom.

In this sport, brains and bravado count more than brawn. And smaller public liberal arts schools like UW-Superior compete with heavyweights like Notre Dame and Drake University -- and sometimes win.

HOW IT WORKS

In the fall, all mock trial teams receive a packet containing the same case materials that are used throughout the season.

Each team consists of between six and ten members -- half attorneys and half witnesses -- who all must be prepared to argue both the prosecution and defense sides of the case.

They follow standard court procedures -- pretrial motions, opening statements, examination of witnesses, and closing statements. Judges don't decide a verdict, but score each participant's individual performance. The team with the most points wins the round and advances through the tournament bracket.

WHO THEY ARE

So who are these students? Who willingly signs up for more studying, frank critiques from real judges and lawyers and hours of prep work -- on top of the travel and competitions themselves?

On the Nerd-to-Cool-Kid Scale, they're all over, according to Kyle Johnson, a legal studies/criminal justice major. He compares mock trial's intensity to running track or cross country. "There are some super smart 4.0 GPA nerds, but there are also guys who love sports and just love to compete," he said. "It's very competitive. You want to win. It's also interesting that you get an individual score, but it's a team sport."

Acting, business finance, and chemistry majors mingle with the more expected legal studies and political science majors.

Allison Marble is a chemistry major who has played multiple roles through the season. She especially enjoys being a witness. "It depends on what witnesses are needed. Maybe you're good at being a creepy witness, or a professional person, or a police officer," she says.

After the group discussed logistics of the coming tournament, students split into two teams -- Black and Gold -- and took turns practicing their roles and critiquing each other.

"Emotion. You've got to have ... more ... emotion," said Johnson, tapping the table for emphasis as he watched Megan Guptill deliver her opening argument.

Part way through practice, Cuzzo gathered the troops again, sizing up the upcoming tournaments at St. Thomas School of Law and Loras College.

"You have to think about St. Thomas as committing yourself to the prosecution and defense arguments, and use Loras to refine," she said. "If you do that you can make it to ORCs."

Translation: Opening Round Championships in Waukegan, Ill.

Note: UW-Superior's Black Team won first place at the Hatting St. Thomas School of Law tournament in Minneapolis last weekend. Guptill was named outstanding attorney. Today the teams head to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa for another tournament.

News Contact: Tom Wilkowske | 715-394-8516 | twilkows{atuws}
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