After five rounds of competition, the Charter School of Wilmington’s team bested 17 teams to win the 2023 Delaware High School Mock Trial Competition final Saturday.
Teams from public, private, parochial and charter schools throughout Delaware took part in the two-day event at Wilmington’s Leonard L. Williams Justice Center.
The participants included 217 students, 52 coaches, and 118 Delaware bench and bar members, who served as presiding judges or scoring judges.
The schools are assigned to knockout brackets, with winners playing until the final two schools remain.
Teams earn points for a variety of factors such as witness believability, trial composure, time management, knowledge of the case and courtroom procedures, and more.
Gary Traynor, a justice on Delaware’s Supreme Court, acted as the judge in the semifinal between Cab Calloway School of the Arts’ team and Wilmington Charter’s team.
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He said the students exhibited excellent trial techniques, and it was abundantly clear that they were well trained.
He also gave them advice on how to improve their opening and closing statements as well as their questioning during cross-examination.
“It means everything to be able to get thorough feedback and guidance from the top judges in the state,” said Aadhi Narayan, an 11th-grader at Wilmington Charter. “They know pretty much everything about law and they’re able to explain the routes needed to get us where we need to be.”
Narayan’s role on the winning team was defense attorney.
He presented the opening statement, directed one witness on his side and prosecuted a witness on the opposition.
Going to law school is something he’d love to do in the future, and he said the Wilmington Charter team really focused on the feedback from last year’s competition to improve this year.
This is the 32nd year for the state mock trial competition. Each year, the teams get faced with a made-up case that switches each year from civil to criminal and back.
Mock trial prompt
This year’s case was civil and focused on a wrongful death.
It dealt with two business partners, George and Ash, who owned an energy drink company.
George was a drug addict with heart conditions who wasn’t supposed to drink energy drinks or high levels of caffeine.
To promote the company at a popular marathon, George wanted to show he would perform well in the race by fueling up with his own energy drink.
Knowing this would be terrible for George’s heart, Ash created an antidote that George drank the night before the race to counteract any negative effects of the caffeinated drink.
George died the morning of the race.
Each team can have up to 14 students, including six attorneys, six witnesses and two timekeepers.
There’s also a courtroom artist competition where students sketch a scene of the trial. Archmere Academy’s Jace Walker won the best art award.
“We have also just started the courtroom journalism competition,” said Daniel Attaway, co-chair of the Delaware Mock Trial Committee. “They sit through the third round, they make notes, and then they have about two hours to put together an 800 word or less article.”
Ursuline Academy’s Aurey Pachuta took home the best journalist prize.
Teams alternate playing defense or prosecution, and the final round was decided by a coin flip.
Most students said they felt confident in both sides and didn’t necessarily prefer taking one role or the other.
Wren Shweiki, a junior at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, said they always had a desire to pursue theater, but their experience in mock trial has made her consider entering the field of law.
“It was cool to see sort of the behind-the-scenes of how trials work,” Shweiki said. “I wasn’t really interested in law, but then after doing this, I found it so interesting to hear all the rules and operations of a courtroom.”
Shweiki was a witness in all rounds, and said they grew as a communicator because of the cross-examination.
“Cross-examination is always really difficult and when it gets intense I tend to get really defensive,” Shweiki said. “This experience has helped me keep my cool and learn how to argue my point in an effective way without getting defensive.”
It’s easy to feel well-prepared when professional lawyers are serving as coaches, Shweiki said.
“Having somebody who’s on the Supreme Court actually sit down and talk to us, just giving us the ruling and telling us what we did well and what we could have done better was a really invaluable experience,” Shweiki said.
Shweiki said the teams are close-knit and become a family during the few months of preparing for the competition.
“It’s nice to just have fun and play with each other instead of being really stressed about trying to make it to finals,” Shweiki said. “You kind of just get to have that freedom of messing up and asking questions and enjoying ourselves as we act out the trial.”
Wilmington Charter acted as the prosecution, defeating Wilmington Friends School, which had won the competition in 2021 and 2022.
Rohan Mandayam, a senior at Wilmington Friends who served as an attorney, said he has loved the mock trial experience, even though he doesn’t want to go into law.
“There’s something about this club that always had a pull at my school, and what you’ll see is people that join the club very rarely leave,” he said. “That speaks to the experience of being able to be in the courtroom and make arguments in front of real judges. That’s something that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do.”
It’s a privilege to be a part of this competition, he said, and he and his teammates are lucky to have legal professionals coach them.
Mandayam said the competition can be overwhelming and intimidating at first, especially trying to remember all the procedural rules and courtroom jargon.
“But you get more confident through each round, and your teammates uplift you,” he said.
The panel of scoring judges included U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika, Delaware Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden, Delaware State Court Administrator Gayle Lafferty and state senator Kyle Gay.
Cape Henlopen placed third, Archmere Academy placed fourth, and Tower Hill placed fifth.
The team from Wilmington Charter will now head to Little Rock, Arkansas for the three day national competition May 18-20.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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