Last year, three City High mock trial teams qualified for the 2020 Iowa State Mock Trial Tournament. However, due to the pandemic, the state competition was canceled and this year City High mock trial has been meeting via Zoom.
“It’s a lot harder to do everything online just because it’s harder to like communicate with your team get ideas across, and just like few as unified feel like you’re going towards like this common goal of districts or regionals, because like everything’s online it just feels more distant, but it’s really nice that we’re still doing it,” Ben Faden ‘22, a witness on the junior team said. “Mock trial is really fun, so I’m happy that we still have a way to do it, amidst all the stuff that’s going on.”
Francesca Brown ‘21, a witness on the senior team misses connecting with her teammates in person, but is happy to still be doing mock trial, even if over Zoom.
“I’m pretty used to doing a lot of things over Zoom. It’s not the same bonding experience you normally have with your team. but out of all the activities I participate in, it’s probably one of the strongest ones right now,” Brown said. “During COVID-19, it’s probably one of the more productive things I have been doing.”
While students don’t get to connect with each other in person, there are some benefits to meeting for mock trial on Zoom.
“Scheduling is always really hard because everyone’s got a different schedule. So actually Zoom has helped us be more flexible and when we can find times to meet because we don’t always have to meet in person,” Faden said.
Not only have they been meeting on Zoom, but the regional competition will take place over Zoom as well.
“It’s definitely weird and the whole system seems a bit odd. It makes me, in some ways, both more and less nervous. I think doing [regionals] over Zoom calms the nerves in some ways because you’re not directly there in person. It’s easier to not make direct eye contact and focus less on that, but at the same time it’s just so weird,” Johanna Kopelman ‘21, a witness on the senior team, said. “[However], looking at these people on your computer screen does make me more nervous and it is odd.
Faden also feels that participating in a trial online feels odd.
“It won’t really feel the same because not everyone’s in the same place. Everyone has their cameras off during the trial, so it’s not really going to feel as much like you’re with your team, it’s gonna feel more like a kind of solo act,” Faden said.
Earlier in the year, the senior and junior teams had a scrimmage with a practice problem in order to get ready for doing a trial over Zoom. All participants must have their cameras and microphones off unless they are the lawyer doing the examination or the witness being examined.
“I’m excited. I’m a little bit nervous about presenting myself as a witness over Zoom. I think I am going to have to practice using big facial expressions and hand gestures because my other body language won’t be seen,” Brown said. “Hopefully it goes well. I think there’s a lot riding on our witnesses, this year in particular. So, as long as we can get by without too many technical difficulties I think our team will be successful overall.”
Erin Liebig ‘22, a lawyer on the junior team, expressed the same sentiments as Brown.
“I feel excited and kind of nervous. Mostly, what I’m nervous for isn’t the actual mock trial based activities, but just how [the trial] will be online,” Liebig said.
In a typical year, students new to mock trial join the meetings with everyone in the program and learn from the more experienced students at these meetings. However, due to the pandemic, the teams in the program have been meeting separately, which has presented a problem for recruiting and teaching novice students.
“We’ve had a harder time incorporating some of those students who have experience and utilizing that experience to help our students who are new and need to learn the ropes. I think that’s a bit more difficult process than usual,” Jason Schumann, one of the mock trial coaches, said. “But because we have some coaches who have a lot of experience in the process, I think we have a decent idea of how to provide them with tools and an education and understanding of how to do it successfully.”
The more experienced students, the senior and junior teams, both qualified for the state competition for the first time last year that was canceled due to the pandemic.
“We have two really quality, experienced teams that qualified for the state tournament last year. And my hope or my expectation is that they will be very competitive. I think amongst a couple of the better teams in the state,” Schumann said. “And then we have a third team this year, which are all mostly novices to mock trial, never having done it before. We’re doing our best to get them up to speed and get them prepared. Hopefully, we’ll have three quality competitive teams and we’ll be able to be successful and hopefully qualify a few of those teams in the state tournament again.”
Although disappointed that the state competition was canceled last year, Liebig still hopes for a shot at the competition this year.
“It’s a funny thing because we didn’t get to go to state when this year we’re going to do it online anyway. We could have done it last year probably online,” Liebig said. “Hopefully we go again. Hopefully we do [well] this year.”
This year is the senior team’s last chance to participate in the state competition after last year’s cancellation, and many on the team are hoping to get to prove themselves at regionals in order to qualify for state again.
“I had really, really high hopes for our team this year and I still do. It’s not necessarily what I wanted, but I’m really glad that we still get to do something and that they’re still hosting regionals. I think I have really high hopes for our team and I think we’re going to do very well,” Kopelman said.