By Nicole Greco
If the Mock Trial Team at West Morris Mendham High School has
one goal this academic year, it’s to continue its winning streak.
It’s been the Morris County Mock Trial Champions a dozen times, the last 11 years consecutively. Beyond that, the team has won the state championship four times, in 2010, 2013, 2014, and most recently this spring, according to head coach, Eric Heditsch, a teacher at West Morris Mendham High School.
“Last year we achieved our greatest success at the national competition in Hartford, Conn., finishing seventh in the nation,” said Heditsch, who has coached the team for 18 years.
Having teams of students take on the roles of attorneys promotes “an understanding and appreciation of the American judicial system,” according to the National High School Mock Trial Championship. Earlier this year, the competition focused on a fictional murder case of a young woman at a Halloween party, and teams of students had to prepare to argue for the prosecution and defense.
West Morris Mendham High School made it to the top ten among schools from across the country, and the bar (no pun intended) is set high for the team of 10-13 students to replicate its level of success this year. Usually they split the roles of attorney and witness, while some serve as supporting characters.
“One of the great challenges is maintain this very high standard of achievement with the constant turnover of the team over the years,” said Heditsch, “We have not had several different groups of students who have won the state title and, yes, once again we will have to fill some holes with newcomers this season – all four of our attorneys have graduated so several witnesses will have to move up to become attorney this season.”
One of the team’s best weapons comes in the form of a concerned dad.
“My son came home one day and said that he made the Mock Trial Team and asked if I would mind helping out and giving pointers,” said Mendham attorney William Connelly,
“That was 14 years ago; Rob has since graduated, went to college, joined the Army and is now an assistant district attorney in Boston.”
“What makes us different is that we put a lot more practice and effort into preparing for our cases,” said Connelly of the team. “The kids are very bright and high achieving compared to other schools. I’ve talked to other coaches and teachers and we put more prep work into it over a longer period of time.”
The cases at local, state and national level alternate between criminal and civil and are closely based on current events. Recent cases have involved online defamation claims and a salmonella outbreak at a restaurant.
While West Morris Mendham’s Mock Trial team is convincing in their arguments, poise and demeanor, it would seem natural for the experience to generate a higher than normal concentration of barrister alumni.
Not so, according to Connelly, who thinks only a handful have gone on to law school in his years helping the team.
“We’ve had several graduates compete in college mock
trials at the highest levels in the nation,” said Heditsch.
Regardless of whether or not
the students bring their experience into additional courtroom settings, each team
member is picking up invaluable life skills.
“It’s a great activity to develop critical thinking and public speaking skills, and it also improves writing and research skills,” said Heditsch. “Another important aspect is the ability to works as a team. Our best seasons have been those when the students collaborate in planning and reining our work, and pushing each other to reach our full potential.”
The team will begin building cases in the weeks ahead with competitions expected through the coming spring.