McDonogh’s Mock Trial team, one of the few teams able to practice and compete during the fall and winter months, has made it to the statewide Sweet 16 and will begin championship competition on Tuesday, March 2.
The annual program, sponsored by Maryland Youth & the Law (MYLAW) in partnership with the Maryland State Bar Association, runs from November through March and operates like a team sport with try-outs, practices, competition, and commitment. Working with the same case, evidence, background, and law, students from public and private schools across the state compete against each other in mock trials before a sitting judge or an experienced attorney.
“Each match is a new challenge,” explains Leena Rai ‘21, one of the team’s captains, who joined Mock Trial in her sophomore year.
In mid-November, the 120 participating schools received the details of “State v. Gardner,” a fictitious criminal case about an art heist during which two individuals dressed as police officers gained access to a museum, tied up the security guards, and stole several precious artifacts and paintings. To prepare for the mock trials, McDonogh’s team, comprised of 12 competitors and two alternates, took on the roles of the bailiff, attorneys, and witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense, studied the case, and prepared their arguments. The team of students from ninth to twelfth grade met weekly with dedicated attorney coaches Brett Ingerman ‘87, a Managing Partner at DLA Piper, and his associate Tracy Turner, as well as faculty coach Ceil Millar to debate the issues and practice courtroom decorum. In between meetings with their coaches, the students honed their arguments, testimony, and courtroom skills in preparation for each week’s match.
Despite the intensity of the practices and competition, Leena, who alternates roles as prosecutor and defense attorney says, “The team culture is very collaborative and tight-knit, making long and detailed practices really fun and light-hearted.”
Two other captains Ellye Alperstein ‘21 and Lily Ates ‘21 also joined the team in their sophomore year as a way to meet new people and learn about the field of law. The three seniors say Mock Trial has pushed them to hone their public speaking skills, listen closely, and be more comfortable thinking on their feet.
Lily adds, “I have learned a lot about collaboration as we are all working together toward the same goal. It's been really important to learn how to both give and get feedback graciously. Participating on this team has been a LifeReady experience, exposing us to challenges and encouraging us to learn and continue to expand our boundaries.”
In years past, participating teams have been divided geographically for competition, however, for the virtual 2020-2021 season, schools were divided according to their platform of choice (Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams). The change proved serendipitous as students were able to compete in more matches throughout the regular season against students from schools across the state. McDonogh’s Mock Trial team finished the regular season of six matches with five wins and one tie.
Ellye credits the success of the team to their commitment to each other and to the coaches who have helped them grow and thrive.