By ALICIA KRUEGER
Be present and stay focused. Give this trial your all.
Coach Bill Schrier and mock trial team captain Nina-Marie Franklin touched on this concept seconds before they stepped into the courtroom for last month’s championship trial against Pacific Grove High School.
After two intense hours, Carmel’s mock trial team pulled through as champions of the Monterey County and, more importantly, won themselves a chance at taking home the state championship.
As the team advances, they are reminded that just three years ago the team made history by being the first Monterey County mock trial team to win the Empire World Championship in New York. This year’s team could be the second, following 2017’s decorated team, to win the state title.
The case at hand for February’s county competition dealt with unfamiliar crimes, like swatting, a death threat and social media, requiring the team to learn new laws and procedures.
Once this year’s Empire tournament in San Francisco ended, the team quickly turned to the new county case packet. They took each witness and created a poster containing their biographies in order to explain who they are and what they can possibly contribute to either side of the case. From there, the team began to develop a theme or a story to explain their version of events.
“Mock trial is not like a play where you get a script,” Schrier explains. “You just get a massive amount of facts and you have to figure out a way to present it in terms of putting on a trial which is through asking witnesses questions and through physical evidence. It’s very, very amorphous. There are no directions on what to do.”
For CHS mock trial, preparation is key.
“The month leading up to county is when we really start picking it up,” Franklin says. “We practice multiple times a week after school for about twoor more hours, three-hour weekend practices, and on Saturdays we typically have an all-day scrimmage.”
This time commitment pays off through the team’s ability to perform under the grueling pressure of a trial.
“Carmel is always extremely prepared and always present themselves professionally,” says Monterey County Superior Court Judge Carrie Panetta. “They really stayed in character well. They also bring a level of intimidation because they are so good and are known for being so good. They deserve their great reputation. You can tell they spend time working hard.”
The Carmel team saw many of its seniors graduate in 2018 and had to enter this season without any truly experienced members to turn to for help. Schrier wondered whether this year’s team would be able to continue Carmel’s four-year run of county wins.
“I think the overarching theme of the season was questioning if we were going to be able to pull through,” sophomore motion attorney Tyler Armstrong says. “The entire time we were not the team that was expected to do well this season…so the entire season I was just hoping I’d do well instead of expecting myself to do well, which seems to be a new paradigm shift in Carmel mock trial.”
The team understood that they were not stacked with experienced team members like in previous years.
“As I said to them, I didn’t really see them putting on a trial that was going to be worthy of being a county champion,” Schrier reveals. “I told them that they were going to have to be really, really strong because it’s hard to keep a string going like that when you’ve had all these predecessors. In the final trial, they found their groove and put on the best trial I’ve ever seen them do. To see them show up the way they did was really awesome.”
Members of the team accomplished a significant mental shift during a check-in the night before their tournament started.
“It dawned on them that there was no one they could turn to,” explains Schrier. “There was no mother or father in the room, they’re all gone. Anything that was going to happen was going to have to happen on their backs. That was the moment I thought they might be able to win this thing.”
After winning 5-0 at the county competition, many team members were recognized and awarded for their hard work. Sophomore Juliana Poppe was recognized as an outstanding clerk, junior Miles Prekoski as an outstanding defense attorney, junior Jenna Garcia as an outstanding bailiff, sophomore Tyler Armstrong as an outstanding defense motion attorney, junior Kylie Yeatman as first place journalist, sophomore Jenna Stallcup as second place journalist and junior Athena Fosler-Brazil as second place courtroom artist.
When asked why he does it, Armstrong explains that it’s mostly about the community: “I don’t really care as much about the trial portion. I mean, I do, but it is more about the people, the friendships, the bonds. I just feel like it is a place I fit in.”
The team will now advance to the California state competition from March 21-24 in Sacramento, which consists of all of California’s county champions.
“We have five weeks to practice and rewrite almost everything because state is just that much harder than country,” Schrier said at the time of the victory. “We have to take everything apart and put it back together in order to fine tune.”