2015, march, mocktrial, ThisWeek, ThisWeekNews, westerville

Mock Trial crown, preps for nationals

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Wednesday March 25, 2015 12:36 PM

North Mock Trial Team celebrating their State victory

For the first time, the Westerville North High School Mock Trial team will be advancing to the national competition in Raleigh, N.C.

North’s Team Darrow won the Ohio Mock Trial State Championship by defeating Ashland High School, from Ashland County, at the Ohio Statehouse in the televised finals March 14.

The 10 students on the North team will compete against 45 teams from the United States, South Korea and Guam at the National High School Mock Trial Championship May 14-16.

Zach Wilkerson, teacher, librarian and the team’s coach, said students were extremely excited when they won state title.

“We’ve been close to winning states before,” Wilkerson said.

“We usually win third place or something, but this time we were able to beat those other teams and win.”

The team had to win a total of nine trials and beat 32 teams in order to take home the state title.

They won cases against Danville, Sylvania Southview (defending state champions), Indian Hill (four-time state champions) and Nordonia high schools.

Wilkerson explained how Mock Trial is one of the longest seasons of any school activity. The team received its case material at the end of September and worked diligently all throughout the school year preparing arguments for both the plaintiff and defendant, as well as crafting opening statements.

“The students invest an unbelievable amount of time in Mock Trial and it’s a ton of work,” he said.

Wilkerson participated in Mock Trial in high school and said it was one of the more formative experiences in his life.

“Students learn important life skills like teamwork, reading, writing, listening, and most importantly, confidence,” he said. “They learn that if they work hard, then they can accomplish amazing things.”

The team was honored at the Westerville Board of Education meeting Monday, March 23.

“These students and advisors are now part of the Warriors’ proud tradition of state champions. They have brought true honor to the community,” said Kurt Yancey, North’s principal.

The students were individually recognized and were given a pin and certificate as they shook hands with school board members.

Board Vice President Rick Vilardo presented Wilkerson with a framed award and thanked him for representing the district so well.

Ken Donchatz, an attorney and one of the team’s legal advisers, said preparation for the national competition is underway.

“Even though the case isn’t released until April 1, we have already started learning about the new competition rules because at nationals, the rules are a little different,” Donchatz said.

The team also is coached by legal adviser Scott Longo and Tom Peet, a retired North social studies teacher.

Donchatz has supported the team for 19 years and says he invests about 20 hours a week with the students.

“But, the students put in way more time than I do,” he said. “They work on it every day.”

Donchatz said the Mock Trial program is a great opportunity for students to learn about the legal system and see what litigation is really like.

“Some of the students decide they want to go into a career in law and other students see that it’s not the right career for them,” he said.

Ohio Mock Trial, established in 1983, is Ohio’s largest high school academic competition. More than 3,500 students participate each year, representing approximately 200 schools.

Wilkerson said the team welcomes any type of student, from theatrical witnesses to razor-sharp lawyers.

“We tend to attract students who are extremely intelligent, driven and the cream of the crop in everything they do,” Wilkerson said.

North’s team members took 18 individual awards in their nine trials wins this season.

These include Jacqueline Kloos’ four Outstanding Attorney awards; senior Matt Spadaro’s four Outstanding Witness awards; senior Tristan Justice’s four Outstanding Attorney awards; senior Amy Cox’s two Outstanding Witness Awards; senior Jennifer Finklestein’s two Outstanding Witness Awards; and junior Diana Asta’s two Outstanding Witness awards.

For the competitions, volunteer attorneys write an original, authentic case involving a constitutional issue that is relevant to students’ own personal experiences.

This year’s case focused on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In the case, a fictional inmate was injured during a prison food fight and brought suit against the correctional institution, saying it provided an unacceptably low level of care to treat his wrist injury.

The panel of judges for the final trial included Chief Judge Edmund Sargus of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Judge Allen Goldsberry of the Athens County Common Pleas Court and Ohio State Bar Association President Lee Belardo.

Wilkerson said he thinks North has a legitimate chance to bring home the national title.

“We have a really strong group of motivated students and a great chance of winning all the way,” he said.

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