Talawanda mock trial team earns Ohio championship title

OXFORD — Talawanda mock trial teams of the past have found success, but this year’s group achieved something no team has ever accomplished. It brought home the title of top team in the state of Ohio.

They achieved the feat with a total of nine trials, including five in a three-day span at the state level.

The team earned the right to compete at the state level competing in two trials each at the district and regional levels.

Team members performed well in all of their state events, in part because they held their nervousness in check. The Talawanda team made it to the state a year ago, but was eliminated in the first round by an Indian Hill High School team. This year’s championship came with a win over another Indian Hill squad in the championship trial.

“I was surprised. I did not think we would get that far. We just kept going and going,” said Julia Peter, the team’s lone senior in her second year with the Mock Trial program. “There was no way we would get that far. No other (Talawanda) team got that far.”

She does admit to a bit of nerves but once a trial got started, she said she was confident.

“For three days, I struggled to eat breakfast. On the last day, I did not eat at all,” she said. “I knew I had everything memorized. I was scared I would go in and blank. After Saturday, I was pretty confident. I knew a lot of people would be watching.”

That championship final was broadcast on the Ohio Channel, which still has the video available for viewing.

Sophomore Muhammed Khan said he felt the team members were calm for the finals but said they had the most nerves getting through the first day. It took a while for the championship to sink in.

“It did not register in our heads for a while what we had done,” Khan said.

The five state-level trials came two each on the first two days and the championship trial on the third day.

Junior Eliot Berberich said he was not too nervous for the championship day.

“It was the least nerve-wracking of all the trials. We knew we could do no worse than runner-up and it was just fun,” he said.

Teacher Amanda Weatherwax is the coach for the Mock Trial team, a position she has held for 13 years, and agrees the team was calm, something she attributes to their working together as a team.

“It has long been a dream to make it day two of state. They did that and it all moved so fast I did not have time to think. It was a weird calm that set in. they were doing so well, it was wonderful to watch,” she said. “They are a team. They have each other’s backs. They are the epitome of a team. Julia started (in Mock Trial) in her junior year and she won four outstanding attorney awards. Eliot is the winningest witness in Talawanda High School Mock Trial history. He has ten outstanding witness awards for his career.”

Sam Morrish is a Talawanda graduate, now a Miami student, who was part of the Mock Trial program as a Talawanda student and now is one of three volunteer coaches for the team. He is in his third year as a team coach.

“It’s definitely a big shift (from participant to coach). I was in Mock Trial all through high school. The biggest adaptation is last year, I was stressed out,” Morrish said. “I have full confidence in the team. The second day of state competition, they excelled every expectation. That last day, they hit their stride with no visible nerves. It was impressive to watch.”

He sees a strong season for the Talawanda Mock Trial team next year, too, predicting strong contributions from Khan and Berberich.

“Muhammed was a witness last year and an attorney this year. He killed it. Eliot will be unstoppable,” Morrish said.

The season is not over for them, either. The state win makes them Ohio’s representative to the national competition to be held May 5-7. It will be held in Michigan, but conducted virtually. Five from the state championship team will take part in the national event, but two cannot take part. They will be replaced by two members from the school’s “junior varsity” team, which made it to regional competition but won one trial and lost one and was eliminated.

The team will have a lot of history to overcome at that competition, too.

“A team from Ohio has not made it to the national finals since the early nineties,” Weatherwax said.

Students in the program commit a lot of time to the process. Peter explained they started last August with practice and planning before receiving the case file for the trial they were to use this year. They practice two nights a week and then three as competitions get closer.

Even with all the memorizing and practice, Weatherwax said they are still making adjustments right up to the time of the trial.

“Mock Trial is a lesson in revision,” she said. “I encourage any school not in Mock Trial to look into it. It teaches a lot of skills and it fosters civility, something we need today.”

The program is sponsored in Ohio by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education, which will have a representative here April 21 for the Talawanda Board of Education meeting to present the winning team members with gavels marking their accomplishment.

Members of this year’s team are Berberich, a double witness; Khan, an attorney; Peter, a double attorney; junior Shr-Shiang Moore, a witness; junior Alex Stenger, a witness; and sophomore Eliza Sullivan, an attorney.

In addition to Morrish, the other volunteer coaches are Kei Brown, a Miami University undergraduate and THS Mock Trial alum, and Erica Edwards, a Miami graduate student in economics. Legal advisor for the team is JP Prusakowski, who is with the New York law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP.

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