Luxemburg-Casco high school mock trial team — county’s first — just misses state tournament
LUXEMBURG – Four days before the deadline to register for regional high school mock trial tournaments, no Kewaunee County school even had such a team.
But that didn't deter the students at Luxemburg-Casco High School, who not only slammed together the county's first mock trial team in time to register but, once there, just barely missed advancing to the state championship tournament.
The team finished in a tie for second place with Logan High School in the eight-team regional tournament Feb. 8 in La Crosse. Logan was awarded second on tiebreak by the narrowest of margins, and only the top two from each region move on to state.
The result, and the amount of work that went into making it happen in less than three months, isn't lost on Andreau Enderby, the civics teacher who serves as faculty coach, and senior Ben Naze, who pitched the idea to Enderby.
"They went up against schools who'd been to state, schools who have tryouts (to make the team)," Enderby said.
"We definitely surpassed my expectations for how the team would go, by miles," Naze said.
Playing the game
The State Bar of Wisconsin, the professional association for attorneys who hold a Wisconsin law license, sponsors and organizes the state mock trial contests.
Bar members create a hypothetical case that teams will argue in all their competitions during the season, which includes the facts, background, affidavits from all the witnesses and what is the reason for the trial.
"Everyone has the same case," said Kewaunee County District Attorney Andrew Naze, who is Ben's father and also serves as Luxemburg-Casco's attorney coach. "It comes from the state bar. They have the same papers, the same witnesses for the entire season."
In the regional, each team gets four dates in court as either the plaintiff or defense. The team's attorneys and witnesses are on the same side. They face a different team each time in front of a panel of three attorneys (sometimes a judge is on the panel), with one serving as the judge to hear the case and rule on objections. All three award points during the trial and vote individually for the winner.
At the end, the results are determined by best win-loss record. The first tiebreaker after that is most winning votes from the panelists, followed by total points over the entire tournament. Luxemburg-Casco tied Logan on the first two criteria but lost on the third.
For the regional, the team was the plaintiff three times and the defense once. Tournament directors decide which team takes which side in a case and can change that at the last minute, which did happen to them, senior Mackayla DeBaker said.
The judges write comments for teams on their score sheets. Enderby said among the comments their team received at the regional were, "Luxemburg showed promise and poise in dealing with difficult witnesses," "witnesses showed great character understanding and played roles well," "attorneys were well polished and executed the role with great professionalism" and "even though you did not beat the team, you didn't back down and fought until the end."
The case the teams are given isn't open and shut.
"To me, it's a very complicated fact pattern," Andrew Naze said. "It's actual law, actual facts, it's the whole putting it together, it's very law school-ish. This is actual law the kids have to know and memorize."
"My dad said this is like second-year law school stuff," Ben Naze said, "and we're 10th, 11th, 12th graders."
Assembling the team
The genesis of the mock trial team came because Ben Naze admittedly was procrastinating.
"One night I was laying in bed, not doing my homework (chuckle), checking out YouTube, and I saw this video that said 'mock trial,'" he said. "I watched it and said, 'why can't we do that?' The next morning, I went straight to Mr. Enderby."
Enderby liked the idea, but a quick check indicated the deadline to sign up for state competition was Nov. 11, four days away. He and Naze put a call for students interested in mock trial into the school's morning announcements the next day, and enough of them came together to form a team — a minimum of six is required, along with a teacher coach and attorney coach — and register for the tournament. The roster currently carries 11 members.
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Team members said they had varied reasons for joining, among them that the school doesn't offer classes focused on law.
"I've always been interested in the legal field and law in general," junior Maddie Leppiaho said. "There weren't any opportunities like this around school. It was a chance to learn about law."
"I always wanted to go into law," junior Isabella Bohm said. "I'm super-excited Ben started this. It's been such a great experience for all of us."
On the other hand, DeBaker said she was interested in accounting until Naze talked her into joining.
"(Naze) said he thought I'd be good at it because I like to argue — which is a valid point," DeBaker said. "After experiencing all this, I definitely can say I don't know about accounting any more. It opened my eyes."
Others said they welcomed the chance to develop and exercise their communication skills.
"I legit was that person who would just sit in the corner," freshman Alyssa Gilson said. "But I like to talk."
Finding your part
As with a sports team, mock trial players and coaches have to determine what position the players will play. Team members not only serve as attorneys but also as witnesses, three of each to a side during a case. Enderby said students can decide if they want to be attorneys or witnesses, and they remain in that role throughout the competition.
"It was a lot of trial and error," Ben Naze said, "moving the pieces around, finding out what makes a good team."
One might think the attorneys do all the heavy lifting and the witnesses just recite what's in the affidavits, but both attorneys and witnesses have to be able to think on their feet, especially if a curve ball comes their way during cross-examination.
"When you're doing cross-examination, you have no idea what's going to be said," Ben Naze said. "You have to think on the fly. You have to know that affidavit back and forth."
"You have to become that person," Enderby said about the witnesses.
Enderby said there isn't a special type of student who can take part and succeed in mock trial. They just need to be willing to work hard.
"Honestly, you could have the most quiet or the loudest person join," Enderby said. "I don't think it's one skill set over another. It's a matter of bringing all skill sets together."
Time also is a factor during a case. Each side has 40 minutes and is docked points if they exceed the limit, and DeBaker said some witnesses being cross-examined by the other team's lawyer can, and do, drag out or obfuscate an answer without lying to run down the clock.
"During cross-examination, the witness wants to waste your time and still look good," she said.
Working and learning
With Luxemburg-Casco getting such a late start, and the packet teams were given with all the case's information running 63 pages, they put in extra effort to get ready for competition.
"We spent the first month just learning what a trial is," Ben Naze said.
Official practices are held twice a week, but Ben Naze said team members studied the case individually or in groups and discussed it three or four times a week during study periods. DeBaker said members regularly put in close to 10 hours a week.
"Other clubs, you can show up once. This, you have to show up every time," Ben Naze said. "It's very much a grind."
Enderby lauded the work put in by the students, who in turn said Enderby, Andrew Naze and David DePeau, a Luxemburg-based attorney who served as another advisor, went the extra mile to coach the team.
"A lot was student-led," Enderby said. "They elected to come in for practices. It shows how much they wanted to come in and do this … What kept me motivated was their aspirations to do well. They were motivated. They made it easy for me."
The team held scrimmage trials with De Pere before entering its first official competition, a 16-team event hosted by Bay Port on Jan. 25 at the Brown County Courthouse. It placed fifth in its only competition before the regional two weeks later.
"Once we saw how (the students) were competing with these schools, we just kept this train going," Enderby said.
Of course, team members learn about the law and how it works in court, with some saying the experience increased their interest in it. Bohm said her work with the team saw DePeau offer her an internship in his office.
But several students said they also learned to improve their public speaking skills, and Enderby added they learned how to think on their feet, think critically and consider things from different angles. He said an example of the latter arose during the regional.
"At La Crosse, we were feeling good about our case," Enderby said. "Then another team came up and argued our case in a different way. So, we learned there's no right way or wrong way."
Another life lesson Enderby said comes from mock trial is learning the value of teamwork.
"It's truly a team effort," Enderby said. "Everyone has to come together to make sure the team does well."
Enderby said he looks forward to continuing the mock trial program. Schools can carry two teams, so he will try to recruit some students for the 2020-21 season. He also hopes the school will offer trial basics as a class sometime in the future.
"A lot of kids expressed interest in (mock trial), said they wish they could've done it after they heard how different it was," Enderby said. "The fact that you have to take what you learned and apply it, it's really different."
And team members who spoke to the Star-News said it's worth the effort.
"I think we all took a chance on this club," junior Emma Paider said. "I don't think any of us regret it."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Luxemburg-Casco high school mock trial team — county's first — just misses state tournament