The Warren Area High School mock trial team is deep into preparations for its upcoming competition on Feb. 26 at the Erie County Courthouse against members of Erie's Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy's first-team defense.
Coming off victories against Collegiate Academy's second-team prosecution and Conneaut Area's second-team defense on Feb. 7, the WAHS team defeated Fort LeBoeuf second-team defense and McDowell's first-team prosecution on Feb. 19 in Erie.
"While most schools are able to field multiple teams, Warren was only able to send one team," said Cody McGraw, a three-year participant, who said the team doesn't consider that a disadvantage.
Times Observer photo by Brian Collins
From left, Cody McGraw, Eric Zavinski, Emmi Beuger and Ellis Beardsley rifle through the case files in preparation for the District Finals of the Mock Trial competition in Erie on Feb. 26.
Along the way, members of the team have had several realizations that are helping them prepare far beyond the basics needed to compete.
Liam Boger, a first-year time keeper for the team, has come to learn the importance of time maintenance.
"We only get 26 minutes per side," Boger explained. "That means each person only has about four minutes to do their part. That includes an opening statement, direct and cross examinations and the closing statement. If you go over the limit, you automatically start to lose points. It's really exciting to watch."
"When you are testifying, you have to do more than just know your statement. You have to become your witness," added Ed Ord.
In what will be the team's third straight year in the district finals, the Warren prosecution team will take on the burden of proof.
Comprised mostly of first-year members, the WAHS team is confident it made the right strategic move in choosing prosecution.
"It was a matter of a coin flip," said McGraw. "Warren called it correctly and chose prosecution because Collegiate Academy's defense team had significantly lower average scores than their prosecution team. It's much harder though, because you are judged by a panel of lawyers and you have the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
With the leadership of teacher-advisor Joe McClellan, Judge Gregory Hammond and attorney advisors Henry and Christin Borger, the students are preparing their case based on the scenario provided by the competition organizers.
"We are practicing every day for one and a half to two hours and are in the courtroom as much as possible," said Ellis Beardsley, a first-year participant.
"We are working on putting a magnifying glass to every document and exhibit we have based on the materials provided to us," added McGraw. "We are at the point now where we are refining all of our skills, such as learning to think on our feet and to really listen to the witnesses' answers."
Win or lose, McGraw and Beardsley realize that the skills they are learning right now are ones that will benefit them for years to come.
"This work we're doing right now is going to benefit us in so many ways for the rest of our life," said McGraw, "especially those planning on attending law school."