The Mock Trial students who went to state, with Dominick Buehler and Maris Huen holding trophies from winning All State. (Photos submitted by Lori Sieling)

Activities have been going strong at Watertown-Mayer, with some finishing up for the season already. Among those activities was Mock Trial, which Watertown-Mayer had two teams this year and one getting into the state competition. Not only did the teams do very well this year, they did so despite the challenges of a distanced year.

“This year thanks to COVID was just a huge challenge,” said Lori Sieling, teacher coach for Watertown-Mayer’s Mock Trial teams. “But it went well.”

Normally, Mock Trial is conducted similar to an actual trial. Students read legal documents from real cases, including testimony transcriptions to get a feel for the case. Some act as lawyers, others as witnesses or suspects. The trial is usually done in a court room with a real judge presiding and monitoring the students. This judge also scores the students based on their performance, so while it is acting in a sense it’s also about debate and professionalism.

COVID had other ideas, unfortunately, so schools and teams had to get creative in order to keep the activity going. Like Speech, Mock Trial was conducted entirely over Zoom to comply with distance requirements. Schools could choose how this would work for students, such as having them perform while at home.

Watertown-Mayer decided, in the spirit of teamwork, that their trials would still take place on campus. Students were placed in a room by themselves so they had the opportunity to remove their masks and not be heard over each other’s microphones. This worked fairly well, though it did lead to some unexpected issues.

“During one of our competitions, the fire alarms went off, and of course we had to evacuate,” said Sieling. “One of our girls was doing cross examination, so she ended up taking her laptop outside, finding a place she could still get internet, and did her cross out in the snow.”

Doing trials at a distance offered a benefit, though. Because Mock Trial usually takes place in a court house, so driving distance was always a factor. This meant there were only a few schools the teams could really compete with, since they had to go to courts houses that both could feasibly drive to. Without having to drive, students got the chance to compete against teams they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Another unique team experience Watertown-Mayer had this year was the fact they had two teams. With 18 students participating, they had to divide to allow every student the chance to participate. This led to the strange situation of the of the teams having to compete against each other during regionals. Mock Trial rules stipulate that a school can’t have multiple teams go to state, so they had to compete to see who would be going to state.

“I thought it would be hard for the students to cross examine each other and question testimony, but they did really well,” said Sieling.

The team that did make it state did fairly well. State features three rounds, and Watertown-Mayer’s succeeded in one of them. The team they competed against was the eventual champion, so they had a tough but fun opponent, according to Sieling.

As a way to celebrate, the students got together one final time and enjoyed a catered meal at the school, since part of the fun of the traveling is eating out together after a competition. As they didn’t have the chance to do that this year, the coaches, Sieling and attorney coach Patrick Neaton, had on large dinner to celebrate the end of the season.

The hope for next year is that Mock Trial won’t have to remain virtual, though they would be ready to do so if needed. Until then, though, the teams get the chance to relax after a unique and successful season.

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