It started in August without much fanfare. About twenty students tried out. Fourteen were selected. (Enough for two complete teams). The team met three times a week after school in the Brown Building. The meetings were at the end of a grueling middle school day for 1.5 hours. Learning a complete case and relevant law was tedious and wearisome. As the semester progressed, academic pressures mounted. And then, there were nine official members of the middle school mock trial team: Campbell, Victoria, Caeden, Eli, Elijah, Ian, Joshua, Bella and Jordan. Since this was not enough to field separate plaintiff/defense teams, team members took on additional responsibilities and doubled up.
The case involved a high school student whistleblower getting fired from a local burger joint. The boss denied the firing was for whistleblowing. Employees, coach, employer, athlete, & a newspaper reporter testified as the students memorized lines while attorneys memorized the law and questions.
The day of reckoning came too soon on November 4 at the Greenville County Courthouse. There were ten teams. After all was said and done, the team secured a statewide wild card bid with a 7-2 record. There had been sixty schools, and now there were twelve. The BJA team also took home the Citizenship Award in the Greenville District.
Elijah Escontrias and Ian Hamrick won multiple student awards at the regional level. Bella Sanders also won an award.
Three weeks to polish their handiwork with time off for Thanksgiving was plenty of time – or so they thought. But one had to have her gall bladder removed. One caught pneumonia. One had to deal with the home going of a beloved grandfather. And one was a basketball player that needed play every chance he could get. Team practice before regionals had been difficult, but AFTER regionals whole team practice was just a pipe dream. But God is good, and the team was able to polish the presentations and even had a scrimmage for the parents.
The State Championship was in Columbia at the state’s newest courthouse. BJA was defense first–our strongest side—and we won handily, despite some opening round jitters. Round two we faced Heathwood Hall as the plaintiff, and as we expected, the round was a tad more challenging. We spent the night at a hotel and woke up the next morning to a Rock Hill team that put up a great fight. Our students battled hard, but strategic mistakes cost us the round. The Rock Hill team we lost to in turn went to the championship round and became the state champs.
Ian Hamrick, Elijah Escontrias, Bella Sanders, Victoria Mendoza and Caeden Wood all won state awards for their excellence as either lawyers and/or witnesses. The work of Madysen Hotchkin (student coach), Ruth DePasquali (attorney coach) and Chuck Nicholas (teacher coach) helped make the BJA middle school team’s fourth place overall finish possible.