Talawanda mock trial team wins state title

The THS Varsity Mock Trial Team :(from left) Julia Peter, Eliza Sullivan, Eliot Berberich, Alex Stenger, Shr-Shiang Moore and Muhammed Khan.

Photo provided by Amanda Weatherwax

The THS Varsity Mock Trial Team :(from left) Julia Peter, Eliza Sullivan, Eliot Berberich, Alex Stenger, Shr-Shiang Moore and Muhammed Khan.

By Skyler Perry

Talawanda High School’s varsity mock trial team won the state of Ohio’s mock trial championship, March 12, defeating Indian Hill High School in the final round. The team’s victory secured its bid to the national competition that begins May 5. 

The goal of mock trial is to simulate a real trial using a fictional civil or criminal case provided by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education (OCLRE). Students then fill various courtroom roles including witnesses, attorneys, and prosecution or defense teams. They must be prepared to argue about both sides of the case for every competition as sides are randomly assigned each time. After the trial is over, the team that did the best job making its case wins.

Talawanda’s varsity team had a perfect record with this year’s case, having won nine of their nine competitions. According to the OCLRE, this season’s case asked students to argue about the government’s right to seize property without compensation in light of governmental COVID restrictions. 

Eliot Berberich, a junior at Talawanda, played the role of a witness on both sides of the mock trial case. Berberich said that the team members were surprised at how far they made it, and even more amazed when they won the championship. 

“We did not expect to make it this far at all this year,” Berberich said. “We were really looking to make it to regionals, which is still a couple hundred teams, so it was a big surprise for all of us when we made it to the final round and actually won it.”

The Indian Hill team that Talawanda competed against was fierce competition. The team has won the OCLRE many times and was ranked sixth internationally in 2019.

Amanda Weatherwax is a ninth-grade English teacher at THS and the long-time coach of the school’s Mock Trial team. Weatherwax said that she personally feared the Indian Hill team as Talawanda had faced them in prior years early in the championship trials and lost. However, after winning the quarter finals, the Talawanda team was looking forward to going up against one of the best, she said.  

“It was something that was poetic to us about us being able to go against a team that we looked up to,” Weatherwax said. “At that point it was cake; either we were going to be the champion and we were going to beat the best or we were going to be the runner up and have lost to the best. There’s nothing better than one of those outcomes.”

Berberich said the judges took a long time to decide on the winner of the competition and designate individual awards as well. However, he said he was feeling confident in their trial, as the team had managed to successfully impeach one of the other team’s witnesses. 

Berberich said a witness can be impeached when they say something that either was not included in or contradicts their original witness statement. 

“I was pretty sure we had it… It’s a really bad thing for a witness when that happens,” Berberich said. 

After the winner was announced, the team was ecstatic. Berberich also won the outstanding witness award during the final round for his performance. Weatherwax said that once everyone left the Zoom call, the team members ran out of the various THS classrooms where they were stationed and began congratulating and hugging each other.

Weatherwax said she was also just as happy as the students to receive the win. Having coached the program for 13 years, she said that in mock trial a team can work incredibly hard and never be recognized, because skill and talent is so plentiful in the state.  She is assisted in coaching the team by Kei Brown, Erica Edwards, Sam Morrish and JP Prusakowski. 

“We didn’t expect this to happen. We know we’re good, but there are a lot of great teams out there,” Weatherwax said. “It’s a combination of us trying to be so good that it’s undeniable and also like just dumb luck.”

With a bid to nationals, the team members must now decide if they want, or will be able, to attend. Weatherwax said this decision may not be an easy one as the May competition comes at a time when many students are studying for or taking their Advanced Placement tests. The timing also interferes with Talawanda’s prom night.

Weatherwax said that at least four members of the original team need to agree to participate, then two alternates can be drawn to compete. Berberich said that he has already decided that he will not be attending nationals as he has two AP tests he has to study for and going to nationals requires the time and energy of arguing an entirely new case. 

The Michigan Center for Civic Education will host the 2021 National Championship from May 5-7, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. If Talawanda decides not to attend, another team from Ohio will be eligible to go in its place. 

Those who are interested in watching THS’s championship win can view the recording at the Ohio Channel’s Website. Weatherwax said plans are also currently being coordinated for the director of the OCLRE to present the team members with honorary trophies and gavels sometime next month to commemorate its win.