ROCK RAPIDS—Although they may not all grow up to become lawyers, students on Central Lyon Middle School’s mock trial team learn worthwhile skills by participating in the activity.
The team members argued a fictitious murder case at the 2019 Iowa Middle School Mock Trial Regional Tournament for northwest Iowa on Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Sioux City Convention Center.
Central Lyon has two mock trial squads, nicknamed the purple team and the gold team. The purple team has six eighth-graders and three seventh-graders, while the gold team has eight seventh-graders. The students are all part of the school’s Talented and Gifted program.
Their coaches are sixth-grade technology teacher Sam Kruse and TAG instructor Brad Raveling. Two lawyers — Lyon County attorney Shayne Mayer and Rock Rapids city attorney Jen Wippert — also assist with the mock trial program.
Kruse, who is in his second year as a mock trial coach, said each squad competed in two of the three rounds at the competition: the purple team competed in the first two rounds, while the gold team were in action the last two rounds.
The purple team won its first round, meaning both judges voted in the team’s favor. In the team’s second round, however, one judged voted against the group while the other was in favor.
“They ended up basically going three for four with the judges,” Kruse said. “With our seventh-grade team, they ended up splitting both of their rounds, so they were basically two for four.”
Had the purple team won the second judge’s vote, Kruse said that team would have advanced to the state mock trial competition, which takes place Nov. 19-21.
The criminal case the students argued involved a dispute between two co-writers of a fictitious play called “Burr,” which Kruse said was a knockoff of “Hamilton: An American Musical.” In the case, one of the actors in the show winds up dead because another actor uses a gun loaded with real ammunition during the duel scene.
“Even though, within the case, everyone knew that the one character pulled the trigger and literally killed the other, essentially the kids have to prove: Was there motive? Was there means? Was there opportunity for this crime to happen?” Kruse said.
During the competition, the purple and gold teams had the opportunity to argue as the plaintiff’s and the defense for the case. That meant in the two months leading up to the tournament, the students held practice sessions where each squad took turns arguing a given side.
Learning how to argue is only one of the skills students on the mock trial team gain by participating in the activity. It also develops their common sense and reasoning skills and gives them public speaking experience.
Teamwork is another essential part of mock trial, since the squads’ attorneys need to be able to coordinate what they will say with their witnesses and be on the same page when it comes to responding to their opponents.
Team members said the most enjoyable moments of mock trial were when they were able to come up with good responses to objections their opponents raised and thinking on their feet.
Contrary to popular belief, Kruse said few students who participate in mock trial end up pursuing careers as attorneys.
“What a lot of them do go on to become is either people in the medical field or people in the field of science and technology, things like that,” he said.
Since neither of the middle school’s mock trial squads qualified for the state competition, the team’s season has concluded.
Kruse and Raveling also coach the Central Lyon High School mock trial team, whose season will begin after winter break.