By TRAVIS MORSE
---- — MT. VERNON — Members of the newly resurrected mock trial team at Mt. Vernon Township High School took part in a special practice session Thursday afternoon to prepare for their first state tournament this weekend in Champaign.
The session took place in Courtroom A at the Jefferson County Courthouse and involved a practice match against the mock trial team from Salem Community High School.
MVTHS team member Kelsie Mullen, a senior, said the mock trial program has given her a valuable learning experience that will serve her well as she pursues a career in law.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to use the courtroom and how to ask questions and different objections and stuff that I had no idea about,” Mullen said. “I am going to college next year for pre-law so this is helping me a lot.”
The MVTHS team consists of seven members, including two seniors and five juniors. The school’s mock trial program was re-launched this school year after having been inactive for at least seven years.
“It’s challenging, but we’re all learning a lot. You can tell that,” said MVTHS senior and team member Chyna Rivera. “You’ve got to put a lot of time into it, but it’s really rewarding so far.”
Thursday’s practice session was divided into two segments. For the first segment, the MVTHS team portrayed the prosecution and the Salem team played the defense. Then, during the second segment, the teams switched sides.
Team members portrayed each of the trial participants, including the attorneys, defendant, victim and witnesses.
After each mock trial performance, the two teams were critiqued by Judge David Overstreet and local attorneys Steve Hanagan, Paige Strawn and Scott Quinn.
The teams Thursday argued a fictional civil case inspired by the real-life 1938 CBS radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” It will be the same case used by the teams this weekend while competing in the state tournament.
Julie Hayes, MVTHS business instructor and mock trial coach, said the case involves a fictional man, George Johnson, who heard Orson Welles’ radio broadcast and believed an alien invasion was actually taking place.
Johnson then went into his underground cellar for six weeks, during which time he lost his job and his farm went under. After emerging from the cellar, Johnson decided to sue CBS.
Hayes said the MVTHS mock trial team has been working on the case since January to prepare for the state tournament. The snow days this winter have presented a challenge, she said, but the team has really pulled together.
“We work real hard on just taking the case, tearing it apart, finding a theme,” Hayes said. “(The students) have to do it all. We can coach them, but they have to do their own questions and their opening statements, so it’s just those critical thinking skills, public speaking skills.”
Sheila Baldridge, the coach of Salem High School’s team, said the mock trial program involves much more than just a memorization of facts.
“It’s processing and being able to handle things on the spur of the moment,” Baldridge said. “It’s a great program for kids.”
Salem team member Connor Stephenson, a senior, said he greatly enjoys how participating in the program forces him to “think very quickly.”
“It definitely takes the art of debate to a new level with adding the courtroom aspect into it,” Stephenson said.
The state tournament takes place today and Sunday and the winning teams will move on to a national competition.
The mock trial team is available at MVTHS as an extra-curricular program. Hayes said she hopes the program will continue to grow.
“We’re just starting, getting our feet wet again, and we’ll take off from there,” Hayes said. “Hopefully, it’ll grow every year.”