Mock Trial Off to a Strong Start After Year-Long Hiatus

After a year-long hiatus, current club presidents Scout Hayashi ’22 and Veronica Yabloko ’22 [Yabloko is an arts writer for The Phoenix but was not involved in the production of this article]  have revived Swarthmore’s Mock Trial Club and, last week, they traveled to Baltimore for their very first meet against ninety-three other teams. Swarthmore left with five wins, while Yabloko took home the Attorney Award — a prize given to students who displayed great critical thinking skills, a professional demeanor, effective questioning ability, and a compelling statement.

When Hayashi arrived on campus in 2018 for SwatStruck, she was immediately drawn to the Mock Trial Club. As a participant of the program in high school, she wanted to continue competing in college. Yabloko similarly came to Swarthmore and wanted to compete in higher-level mock trials. When they arrived on campus in the Fall of 2018, however, the club had entirely disappeared. Consequently, Hayashi joined Haverford Mock Trial, while Yabloko became a member of the Amos J. Peaslee debate team. This year, the two came together to revive the mock trial club and last week they entered their very first tournament. 

In mock trial, each team is given a unique case to prepare for the tournament. Student ‘attorneys,’ like real-life lawyers, take in the facts, analyze them, and try to form an argument to either prosecute or defend. Student ‘witnesses’ give information during the trial by answering questions. They also have freedom in the acting, however, and often add their own touches. 

The tournament was split into two days. Each day contained two rounds, with each round having four sub-rounds (referred to as ballots). Out of the twelve total ballots, the Swarthmore team won five and lost seven. The Swarthmore team was made up entirely of first years and sophomores, so for many this was their very first tournament. 

“We were all so nervous going in. We didn’t really know what to expect. But, by the second round, we were a bit more confident and we ended up winning two of our ballots, two out of four. So, you know, for our first tournament, I’m pretty happy with them. And a lot of our attorneys got ranked. When you’re getting scored, judges put down which attorneys they think are best. So a lot of our attorneys and witnesses got ranked,” said Yabloko. 

The Mock Trial Club’s current program and plan was mostly inspired by Hayashi’s experiences in Haverford Mock Trial in the 2018-2019 academic year. There, Hayashi learned the nuances that distinguished college-level and high-school-level mock trial, such as the different rules of evidence and the logistics in registering for events and training necessary to maintain the program’s sustainability. One big difference between the current iteration of Mock Trial and the previous one is an invitationals-oriented preparation schedule.

“What I was able to learn from Haverford is that there are a lot of invitationals around the country and the teams that compete in these early season invitationals do a lot better at regionals, which is the tournament that actually matters,” Hayashi said. “In our new iteration, we’re going to compete more at these invitationals, we’re going to get a coach, and we’re going to build up a stronger program-base that’s based around constant competition instead of months of preparation leading to one big competition.” 

Swarthmore’s coach is Tanner Rouse, a local district attorney who found out about the position after the club Presidents asked the Bar Association in Philly to send a mass email to local attorneys. Before coming to Swarthmore, Rouse has had experience coaching Drexel Law School’s Mock Trial Team. 

Looking forward, the club hopes to grow further and bring in student actors to play witness roles. Their biggest competition ahead is the regionals which will take place in late February or early March, the date is still to be determined. The club Presidents, however, believe that all students, no matter their background, should join Mock Trial and learn countless invaluable skills. 

“We are trying to make it like a very, very inclusive community, a community where you can come and you can compete or you can come and you can just sit there to learn and watch. Because the skills that we’re learning there are super applicable to like, all walks of life,” said Yabloko, adding that “having good oration skills is really important. Having good public speaking skills is really important. Being able to analyze something and understand how to build an argument for something is really important.”

With a couple of successful meets behind them, the future is bright for Swarthmore’s new Mock Trial Club.

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