Wyoming Seminary mock trial team preps for national competition

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]
Sophomore Philip Ouellette analyzes a video of his performance in a mock trial ‘scrimmage’ during preparation for a national competition. He and the rest of Wyoming Seminary’s mock trial team won the state championship and will compete in nationals later this month. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Wyoming Seminary graduate Caroline Reppert and Latin teacher Dave Johnson attend a mock trial exercise in Wyoming Seminary’s Sprague Hall in Kingston. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader

KINGSTON — Did Jordan Kendall kill Taylor Garcia by planting an explosive on the giant tricycle that included an umbrella shooting flames created by burning a new alternative fuel?

Of course not. This is a “mock trial,” after all. No one faces prison, though teams from almost every state — including Wyoming Seminary’s crack crew of mock attorneys and witnesses — do risk becoming national champions during competition in Reno, Nevada, May 10-12. They previously won the state championship.

“With all the work we put into preparation, I think we have a fairly good chance,” Morgan Price said with modest confidence during a break in rehearsal at the school’s Sprague Hall this week.

There are two big differences between the state and national competitions, coach Adam Carlisle conceded. First, “We had about five months to prepare for states. We have about five weeks for this.”

Second, the state judges give you an idea of how you did after each mock session. “At nationals, they don’t tell you how you did.”

Still, these students looked the picture of professionalism and aplomb while critiquing a video of Phil Ouellette’s performance as a witness during a “scrimmage” Carlisle had arranged with another school recently. During frequent pauses, they critiqued nuanced choices in Ouellette’s words:

• Don’t start by describing the suspect’s clothes, focus on what he was doing.

• Don’t say “everybody loved” him. It invites an objection you are speculating.

• Don’t say you thought the police thought something, it makes you feel guilty.

The entire case is fictitious, but with realistic details. It centers on a “Fantastical Art Trike” about twice the height of a typical adult created by well-known hedge-fund manager Taylor Garcia for display at the annual Burning Man Festival north of Reno. The bike included alternative fuel feeding a flame out the top of an umbrella above the rider. When an explosion killed Garcia, his friend Jordan Kendall was accused as the killer following an FBI investigation.

Is Kendall guilty?

“Yes!” Meghna Melkote opined with clear, um, conviction.

‘We’re all in’

The team is preparing to perform four times during the competition, twice playing defense and twice playing prosecution. They must be ready to step into roles of both attorneys and witnesses, and they must hew closely to detailed affidavits, legal stipulations and sworn, written testimony.

On the plus side, that makes it a bit like performing in a play. “A lot of it comes down to our performance of the case,” Melkote said. She hopes the group’s experience — they have 17 mock trials under their collective belts — “could be what pushes us over the edge.”

The negative side? While there’s lots of material a person must stick to, the other team can readily throw a monkey wrench into a performance with a question, or answer, they hadn’t prepared for.

Are they nervous about being the first Seminary team to make it to nationals since 2011? “Not now, but we will be, probably once we’re in Reno,” Shailee Desai conceded.

Not that they’ll have a lot of time to fret. Carlisle has arranged scrimmages with four other states once they arrive. Yes, he noted, that gives possible competitors some potential insight into Seminary’s tactics and skills, but the extra experience is worth the risk.

Besides, Morgan Price added, when the real mock trials begin, nothing preceding will really matter.

“No matter what, once we start, we’re all in.”

Sophomore Philip Ouellette analyzes a video of his performance in a mock trial ‘scrimmage’ during preparation for a national competition. He and the rest of Wyoming Seminary’s mock trial team won the state championship and will compete in nationals later this month.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL050418mocktrial1-1.jpgSophomore Philip Ouellette analyzes a video of his performance in a mock trial ‘scrimmage’ during preparation for a national competition. He and the rest of Wyoming Seminary’s mock trial team won the state championship and will compete in nationals later this month. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

Wyoming Seminary graduate Caroline Reppert and Latin teacher Dave Johnson attend a mock trial exercise in Wyoming Seminary’s Sprague Hall in Kingston.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL050418mocktrial2-1.jpgWyoming Seminary graduate Caroline Reppert and Latin teacher Dave Johnson attend a mock trial exercise in Wyoming Seminary’s Sprague Hall in Kingston. Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Wyoming Seminary vying for national title

By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish