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St. Norbert’s Mock Trial team slayed a few giants in its bid for national glory – among them, the Stanford University team.

Mock Trial Team Reaches Opening Round Championship Series

It’s more important to know what Mock Trial isn’t than to assume what it is.

Mock Trial isn’t just for pre-law or political science majors. It doesn’t focus on your ability to jump high or shoot the 3-pointer well, and the results aren’t tied to your voice’s ability to hit a high C.

But none of those attributes will disqualify a St. Norbert College student from being a member of its successful Mock Trial team, according to Charley Jacobs (Political Science), who started the program 10 years ago and this spring saw his students advance to the cusp of the national championship tournament.

It has more to do with the student’s ability to focus, learn and excel at a chosen role, he says.

“We have a variety of kids,” says Jacobs. “The kids play both witness roles and attorney roles, and you need slightly different competencies for both. One of our most accomplished witnesses is a poli-sci major, but he’s in theatre and music, and so he has a real talent for performance and he does a terrific job.

“We have econ majors, we have history majors, we have poli-sci and philosophy majors. We’ll take anybody. It’s technically a poli-sci course, but we’ll take anybody as long as you have an interest in argumentation and the law or rhetoric or debate or anything like that.”

Drawing from SNC’s diverse, deep pool allowed Jacobs and his assistant coaches to build a strong core that reached the Opening Round Championship Series of the national Mock Trial tournament, where the SNC team defeated Stanford University, though it fell short of advancing to the national finals.

A year to celebrate
St. Norbert’s strong showing in the tournament this spring is somewhat rare for the program, Jacobs says. If you’re thinking there might be a “Hoosiers” angle to this accomplishment – that David versus Goliath spirit – you might be on to something.

“For our size of school, yeah [it’s an accomplishment], because we have resource issues, and we don’t have a big enrollment, and not a whole lot of our kids go to law school every year,” he says. “So, we’re not Yale. Yale won the entire national championship this year.

“I like to joke that this is like the NCAA basketball tournament for geeks. We start out with regional tournaments. There are about 700 teams from about 400 schools nationwide that participate in Mock Trial. We go to these regional events, and in these regional events, we get judged in our performances and the trials that we put on. And if you’re among the top six, you get to go to the first round of the national tournament, and that’s what we qualified for.”

SNC competed in regionals at Hamline University in Minneapolis, Feb. 22-24, and advanced to the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) in Geneva, Ill., March 8-10. Yale University earned the national championship in the American Mock Trial Association’s tournament in Philadelphia, April 4-7.

SNC Mock Trial team members include Roman Buss ’19, Christian Cattan ’19, Zac Dickhut ’19, Samantha Greaves ’18, Catherine Nowaczyk ’19, Hanna Reinke ’19, Elizabeth Totzke ’19 and Hunter Van Asten ’19. Seven of those eight students will move on to law school.

It takes a team
Experienced community members assist Jacobs in coaching: Brown County Circuit Court Judge Marc Hammer (Business Administration), defense attorney Tim Hogan and law clerk Alyssa Kempke ’13.

Kempke, a Green Bay native, is a 2016 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School. She was a Mock Trial team member as a St. Norbert undergraduate student.

“The reason I wanted to be a coach was to be the mentor that the other coaches were for me, and to help the students navigate what was next beyond college,” Kempke says. “It’s nice to be on the other side and help them develop their skills, and also keeping my own skills up to date.”

Hogan, in his sixth year of coaching with Jacobs, says seeing students develop is gratifying.

“I’ve seen so many of the kids do so much better from when they first start on the team, usually when they’re sophomores,” he says. “By the time they reach their senior year, it’s a complete 180-degree change from what they had been – super comfortable, thinking on their feet, making arguments, the tone of their voice ... by the time they’re a senior, they’re like, ‘I got this. Even if I lose the objection, I’m still going to make that objection.’ They’re super confident.”

A college’s large student population doesn’t automatically provide it with a strong Mock Trial team, and small schools aren’t automatically ruled out. Northland College, with approximately 3,100 students in Midland, Mich., won the national championship in 2009 and participated in this year’s national championship tournament.

Quality is more important than quantity in Mock Trial, and St. Norbert’s team is proof. In a season that stretches from late summer to early spring, it’s the character of students that makes the difference.

“That’s the really interesting thing about this,” Jacobs says. “If I’m Eastern Michigan’s football program, there’s no way I’m grabbing lightning in a bottle and beating Ohio State. There’s just no way. But a place like St. Norbert – do we have the academic reputation of a Stanford? No. But any institution that has kids who are smart, who have an intellectual drive, who have a real need and want to compete ... I don’t care if you’re at Stanford or Yale, if you find the right combination of kids who have all those qualities, they’ll compete with anybody.”

“We are underdogs,” Kempke says, “but we are underdogs who are ready and willing to put the work in. The time and preparation that these students actually committed to the program was apparent. When we were in class, sometimes we would stay until 10 or 10:30 at night, and it would be time to leave, but they wanted to ask more questions, and how do you say no?”

April 29, 2019