Mock Trial: Carmel HS Takes First at County and State Competitions, Nationals Right Around the Corner

Carmel's Mock Trial team after winning the State championship.

At the rate they're going, it seems like there's nothing that can stop Carmel High School's Mock Trial Team.  After another feisty battle between them and Pacific Grove High School at the Lyceum's Monterey County Mock Trial competition (which you can watch again here), they went on to win the California State Mock Trial competition against Shasta County (you can watch the replay of State here).  They are now just a few weeks away from heading to the National Mock Trial Competition, to be held in Hartford, Connecticut.  (By the way, if you're interested in helping support this team in their expensive journey to Nationals, you can donate online by clicking here.  Every little bit helps!)

We reached out to students Mindy Morgan and Anna Gumberg, as well as coach Bill Schrier, to see if they could spare a moment of their time to talk to us about their experience and all of the excitement leading up to the National Mock Trial competition.  Their answers follow.

You've had a long journey to State, and you've been practicing a lot: three or four times a week!  In total, how long have you been working on this case (which deals with themes of human trafficking and dignified work)?

Mindy: We got the case in mid-September but due to the Empire Tournament we did not begin preparations until mid-November, so in total we worked on it for about 3 ½ months.

Anna: We would practice anywhere between one to three hours a day. Then there were the scrimmages. Just about every weekend (there may have been three free weekends from November to March), we would scrimmage, and scrimmages are basically an all-day endeavor. It wasn't at all unheard of to drive three hours to meet a team for a scrimmage. I would say we'd clock about 20 hours on the case every week. 

That's a lot of time you spend with your team!  I recall one of your other teammates saying that Mock Trial is like having a second family.  What have been some of the ups and downs you all have gone through together?

Anna: Like every team, we've had our ups and downs. With mock trial, with this season, a major challenge has been the team feeling worn out. It's true, we only started the state case in November, but before that, we had been working on the Empire New York case since July. For almost everyone on the team, we had been doing mock trial for months and months and months on end, and with that sort of time commitment, sacrifices are inevitable. I would say a primary challenge is keeping people energized, excited, and interested in what we're doing. 

Mindy: Another one of the biggest challenges, undoubtedly, is the inevitable struggle that comes with mock trial itself. It’s extremely complicated and no one gets is right away. Although this becomes easier with more experience and more practice, there are still case-specific nuances that take time and energy to master. That can be incredibly frustrating. When you work for hours and hours on something and still don’t understand what’s happening, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making any progress and that can be discouraging. However, I also think that this reveals one of the strengths of our team because we all put the time needed to master those nuances, even when it might have been easier to stop trying altogether.

Your efforts haven't gone unrewarded--congrats again on winning the State competition!  Can you share with us some of your favorite moments from that experience?

Anna: A few moments stand out from the State Finals. First, on Thursday night, we had a team dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. We were all so close, laughing, simply having an amazing time with each other. Second, on Sunday morning, the day of the final trial, we were in Riverside's ceremonial courthouse waiting for the trial to begin. This courthouse is absolutely breathtaking, unlike anything we had seen before. I remember listening to music, pacing in this magnificent hallway, and the energy was palpable. 

Mindy: One of the highlights of the State competition didn’t actually occur in trial. The night before the first round we had planned a small surprise birthday party for two of the members on our team. We had balloons and a sign and streamers and a cake, and that night, after the surprise itself, we all spent time just being together, talking and eating cake, and there was such a feeling of camaraderie and comfort in that moment that it served as a reminder of why we really do mock trial. The competition is fun and tournaments are great, but ultimately we do it for each other, and that one, very small moment was such a spectacular reminder of that.

It sounds like you had a blast!  So, you're heading to Nationals...What's going to be different this time?

Anna: First of all, Nationals will be different because everything, everything is new for us. We never would have dreamed making it to Nationals, and now that we're here, we have so much to learn. There's different rules of evidence, different rules of procedure, the tournament is structured differently than State, and most of all, this is the latest in the school year that Carmel High School has ever done mock trial. It's remarkable that the team is even still in business in mid-April. 

Mindy: The case we used for State will not be the same one that we use for Nationals, as all the states use a different case in their individual competitions, so everyone gets a new one for Nationals. We also don’t have nearly as much to prepare for Nationals as we did for State. The case came out on April 1st and the tournament starts on May 12th, so all of the participating teams have just over a month to get ready. We’ll also be using a version of the Federal Rules of Evidence, while California uses a version of the California Rules of Evidence. 

It sounds like it's going to be pretty different, then, and certainly a challenge for your team!  What primary challenges are on your radar?

Mindy: The time is definitely going to be a challenge. Preparing a case in a month and change is a daunting task, especially when there’s so much new material to master. There are also some procedural differences in the Connecticut Judicial System that are different, or not present, in California.

Anna: I imagine scheduling will prove to be an issue as we proceed. April and May in the school year are the busiest months, easily. We have AP tests to dodge, scholarship deadlines, and college decisions for the five seniors on our team who are going to Nationals. 

And after Nationals?  Then what happens?

Mindy: Nationals is actually the last part of the journey for this team. Regardless of the outcome, there is nothing after Nationals that is a continuation of that specific tournament. For a lot of us, this means that it will be the last case and the last tournament we ever do.

That sounds sad, in a way, because of how close you and your teammates have become, but is probably also a relief after all of the work you've been doing.  What would you say makes a great Mock Trial teammate?

Anna: A great mock trial teammate is someone who is committed, understanding, hard-working, and fun to be around. We ended up spending so much time together, and we all have a great time because we know that in the midst of all the work we do, all the time we put in, it is important that we remember why we're doing this in the first place and have a little fun. 

Mindy: Simply put, mock trial is about putting your team before yourself. This is manifested in so many ways. That can mean being okay with not doing a role because one of your teammates does it better. That can mean coming into practice for six hours on a Sunday because you know that you have to show up for your teammates. Not everyone who does mock trial is great at it the first, second, or even third time around. But everyone who does mock trial has some inherent ability to recognize the importance of putting others first, and that is ultimately what makes a team successful.

I wanted to talk also about your coach, Bill Schreir.  How would you describe him?

Anna: What stands out to me about Mr. Schrier as a coach is his dedication. It is simply unparalleled. He puts his heart and soul into mock trial, and that shows in everything he does, and as a result, in everything we do as a team. 

Mindy: This is a really hard question. Mr. Schrier is undoubtedly the most dedicated person most of us have ever met. He works harder than anyone else on the team to ensure that we all have the best experience possible. He is kind, compassionate, and understanding. He insists on humility in victory and graciousness in defeat. Because of Mr. Schrier we have learned that civility and integrity are second to none, and he models nothing less. It is hard to describe how intricately entwined he is with our success, for there is no doubt that everything we are as a team we owe to him. Not only is he our coach, but he is our teacher, our mentor, and our friend, and for that, we are forever grateful.

Bill, what does it take to be a Mock Trial coach?

Bill: Mock trial takes a long time to learn. While having legal training is important, having mock trial experience is even more important. You have to be willing to put in the time required to learn the process and then to teach it to the students. You also have to have a thick skin. As the case packet cautions every year, mock trial is a subjective undertaking and there are no guaranteed outcomes. I've found that my team's success has increased as we have become less attached to outcomes. Our goal now is to have fun and do our best. I can't say that was always true of our program.

Tell me about one of the most memorable moments you've had with your coach during case preparation.

Mindy: We always dedicate a few practices to going over the Rules of Evidence and nothing else, which is always grueling. At one of these practices, we were all struggling more so than usual. It was one of those days where no matter how hard you think about it, it just doesn’t make sense. Eventually, we decided to call it a day because we weren’t making any progress. The next day we came into practice, and Mr. Schrier handed all of the trial attorneys a quiz on the Rules of Evidence that he had written the night before, after our less than spectacular practice. That’s a testament to what kind of coach he is. He never gives up on us. Even when we’re frustrated and confused, he refuses to let us stop working there, and instead does whatever it takes to get us to the point where we’re confident in everything we do.

In closing, could you please share with our readers why students should do Mock Trial?

Mindy: For most people, mock trial is one of the hardest things they will do in high school. That’s exactly why they should do it. People should do mock trial because it doesn’t come easy, and it is only after inevitable failure that you reach success. That lesson is invaluable. Knowing how to struggle, knowing how to be frustrated, but also knowing how to overcome that is something that can serve people in every walk of life, and it’s something that everyone can use far beyond the bounds of high school.

Mock trial also teaches people to honor commitments. Joining a mock trial team means that you are making a promise to everyone else in that room to show up, to be present, and to do your best. Understanding the importance of showing up for others because you said you would, shows maturity and integrity and that is crucial in becoming someone others respect and admire.