Steubenville Mock Trial Team Prepares for District Competition
By CHRISTOPHER DACANAY/Herald-Star
STEUBENVILLE — The Steubenville High School Mock Trial Team held a dress rehearsal Thursday in preparation for Friday’s district competition at the Tuscarawas County Courthouse.
Portraying both prosecution and defense, the 11-member team competed against itself for some last-minute practice. Judge Michelle Miller presided over the hour-long case in her courtroom and offered some words of encouragement to the team afterward.
“You showed the court that you read the cases and you know the law,” Miller said. “I think you’ll do well tomorrow.”
The team was set to compete on Friday at the Tuscarawas site for the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education District Competition, with the first case beginning at 9 a.m. and the second at 1 p.m. Also set to compete at the Tuscarawas site were teams from Claymont High School, Dover High School, Garaway Local Schools, New Philadelphia High School and Tuscarawas Central Catholic High School.
This year’s case, which high school teams will debate over during the competition, regards excessive fines as they relate to property forfeiture due to a crime. Provided Steubenville wins both of its cases, the team will move on to the regional competition on Feb. 16, said the team’s coach, Cherie Metcalf, noting the team made it to last year’s regional competition in Akron.
Students on Steubenville’s team act as witnesses and attorneys on both sides, with the defense competing first on Friday, followed by the prosecution. The team is limited to 11 competing members, though the team also has alternates, bringing the total to 19. Metcalf said the alternates participate at practice meetings, gaining experience so as to hopefully compete next year.
Competing in the district competition comes after about three months of preparation, commencing when the statewide competition’s case materials became available for students’ review, Metcalf said. Mock trial is an extra-curricular at Steubenville and not a class, but it still required practice — Metcalf scheduled as many sessions as she could, working around students’ other extra-curricular commitments.
“They have put in hours of practice on their own time (as well), writing their speeches, writing their questions,” said Metcalf, who has been Steubenville’s mock trial coach for almost 30 years. “The witnesses had to study their parts, their depositions, their witness statements.”
This wasn’t the team’s first time practicing in front of local lawyers. The team held an earlier practice trial at Dillonvale county Court in front of Judge David Scarpone, and it has met with Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin, both of whom offered advice and critiques.
As the team duked it out in the courtroom, Metcalf took some last-minute notes.
“As a coach, I’m always looking for ways to improve the team,” she said. “I think we’re ready to win tomorrow, but we can always improve. We will learn a lot tomorrow in what we can do to improve even further.”
Hanlin, who was present at the dress rehearsal, concurred with Metcalf’s assessment, saying the team has improved by “leaps and bounds” since last she watched them.
Miller commented on the attorney’s apparent familiarity with separate cases that relate to the case at hand.
Metcalf said there were nearly twice as many cases students had to be familiar with this time, compared with previous years. To help memorize the case facts, students participated in a faux game show, pressing buttons to give an answer first — donated prizes were offered, with the winner receiving $95.
With so much information to take in, Metcalf said mock trial does help students “learn their legal rights and responsibilities, and they become better citizens.”
Regrading students’ engagement in the law-related activity, Miller said, “It’s so encouraging that there’s such an interest. Learning facts of the case is one thing, but learning the law, reading the cases and applying the rules derived from those cases to the facts is remarkable for high school students.”
Among competing team members was senior Liam O’Brien, who has been on the team for three years. Acting as a defense attorney, O’Brien said he enjoys the challenge of a good case and the reward of all the case’s parts coming together in the end.
Although a bit nervous about the district competition, O’Brien said, “Once you get started, it’s just a lot of fun.”
Also competing was junior Noah West, who has been on the team for three years. A prosecuting attorney for this case, West said he’s “confident” about the competition due to his own experience acting as both an attorney and a witness, as well as his team’s dedicated efforts.
West, who is considering pursuing a career in law, said cross-examinations of witnesses are his favorite part about mock trial, adding, “When you’re hard on somebody, it’s fun — when you’re in a good argument with a team that’s prepared for the competition.”