EKU has earned their ticket to the big dance this year, but on a different kind of court than most would imagine.
On the heels of finishing in the Top 6 in the AMTA Opening Round Championship in Memphis, EKU’s mock trial team is headed to the AMTA National Tournament in Los Angeles on March 21, the third year in a row for the highly decorated group.
The team had previously finished second in the AMTA Regional Tournament in St. Louis, where they swept 3 out of 4 teams in both ballots. While they have had their share of good fortune during tournaments in recent years, their achievements have little to do with luck.
The mock trial team are an eclectic, but cohesive group. The team members range in majors from political science and criminal justice to chemistry teaching. Despite their differences, in career paths, all members of the mock trial team share a common proficiency and passion for law.
To many members of the team, it gives them an opportunity to pursue their interest in the courtroom long before the decision to go to law school is made.
“We like to check one another. We like to look at each other’s material, make comments, and make changes as the case changes and the year goes on,” sophomore Ryan Wiggins said regarding his team’s cohesiveness. “Everyone helps each other in that regard.”
Much like a football team has positions, each player has a role. Captain Allie Maples plays the part of plantiff and defense, making opening and closing statements, while courtroom roles like witness and fellow plaintiff are filled by Wiggins and senior Melissa Mahan, respectively.
As is typical in the everyday courtroom, each case comes with an immense amount of pressure.
“We’ve gone against teams and thought we knew what they were trying to do with their case theory,” Wiggins said. “Then they’ll get up to cross-examine a witness, and have a cross-examination unlike anything we thought it was going to be—sometimes you just get stuck out in left field.”
This year’s case for the national tournament is Alex Taylor v. Trifecta Entertainment. Taylor, a playwright and plaintiff in the case, claims that Trifecta stole his copyrighted idea for a play and made profits on his intellectual property. As representatives of people in a fictional case, all members of the team must play their roles as compellingly as possible with only a little amount of time to prepare.
Once a team has qualified for nationals, they’re given three weeks to plan around a case entirely different from the one on which they had built their championship run. Cases in the past have covered subjects from every aspect of the legal realm, from copyright cases, to theft, to murder trials.
No trial has come without its shortage of challenges, and no case comes with inherently less pressure than the rest. Cases like Alex Taylor v. Trifecta Entertainment are grueling and technical, while murder trials create an illusion of high stakes and higher-running emotions.
Regardless of any illusion the trial might create, sitting in at a mock trial practice exposes one to the urgency of a courtroom environment.
Team members debate over what should be said, minute details are repeatedly changed, and every consequence of every action is taken into account. Coaches Tom Parker and Lynnette Noblitt challenge any weaknesses they detect in the team’s case and back each decision with their own reservoir of knowledge and experience.
This process is run twice a week—every Monday and Wednesday. In addition to the hours they spend together, Wiggins said each member is expected to write some piece of material, whether that be an opening statement, cross-examination, or direct examination.
“You have to hold yourself accountable, making sure you write the things you need to write and make edits as your case theory changes,” Wiggins said.
The team’s preparation is meticulous, and for good reason. The further the team progresses, the more prepared they’ll need to be in order to handle challenges from traditionally powerhouse teams like Harvard, University of Chicago, and NYU. Despite facing bigger challenges, however, the team remains cool and confident.
“We’re not an Ivy League school or a big state college,” Wiggins said, reflecting on EKU’s status as an underdog in the tournament. “But we’ve made it to nationals several times in years past and we’ve gained a reputation as the best team in our state.”
To sum it up, Wiggins said, “I feel like we’re ready to take on anyone.”