With wins over Carroll and Howard counties, and after playing three consecutive nights, the undefeated Severna Park High School mock trial team earned the Circuit 5 championship on March 1.
The win advanced the Severna Park squad to the March 14 regional championships against the final eight teams in Maryland. To date, the team has prevailed in all 10 matches this season — six in the county, one in the county championship and three in the circuit round.
Christina Bowman, mock trial advisor at Severna Park High School, said the students have been hard at work with practice and creating their arguments.
“These kids are beyond dedicated,” Bowman said. “But also, mock isn’t a one-season sport. These kids have been practicing since October.”
The 14-member team consists of three state’s attorneys, three defense attorneys and eight witnesses. Teams prepare for their cases and then square off against other high schools in court — the prosecution for both high schools go against the opposing defense for each case. Not every case in their undefeated season came without its fair share of drama, plot twists and suspense.
Bowman, who mostly spends trials in the back row, said her team doesn’t take any case for granted and even when they think they’re winning, they question it.
“The biggest twist for me was the first time the notebook didn’t get in as evidence,” Bowman said. “It was an important trial, and the other team was solid. There is no coaching allowed, so I just sit in the back and can’t help. But during that trial, I watched them fight. Did the evidence get in? Nope. Did they win? Yes, they did, and I think it’s because they didn’t just give up or get emotional. They adapted.”
The 2022-2023 mock trial team consisted of 11 returning students and three seniors who’d done mock trial since they were freshman, which Bowman felt gave this team a head start.
“I always believe my team is good,” Bowman said. “Things happen and seasons go ways we might not want, but the kids grow. They put on their case, and win or lose, success comes from the team’s family dynamic.”
Athena Vangraefschepe is a co-captain attorney on the team. In addition to skills she’s learned as part of the team, she believes the best parts of mock trial are the relationships she forged with her teammates. Vangraefschepe said although her teammates are all very different, there’s a unity that forms with a case.
“We spend months preparing for this case, and in that time, we get to learn so much about each other and really become a family,” Vangraefschepe said. “It’s just cool to be a part of a team where everyone is so connected and passionate about what we do.”
Amelia Farrar has been a four-year member of mock trial and plans to attend law school. She feels she’s always been politically inclined with a knack for debate. In addition to co-captain, Farrar is the lead state’s attorney in criminal cases, direct-examining the lead witness for the state and cross-examining the defendant. She presents the closing argument for the state and studies the defense for new arguments.
Farrar has a huge role in the team and said her closing argument is her favorite part of her role.
“You get a lot of creative liberties since it’s one of the only areas where nobody is allowed to object or interrupt you,” Farrar said. “It’s my job to highlight our evidence we demonstrated in trial and prove that they meet the charges presented beyond a reasonable doubt. One of my favorite parts is that while I have my closing written in advance and memorized, I get to react to what was said in court today. I like to take the defense’s words or themes and spin them to meet my argument. I get to have some fun with it in that sense.”
For Elliot Gerig, a four-year team member who said he improved his public speaking, memorization and ability to stay calm under pressure, mock trial is something that students should consider.
Gerig said as a co-captain, he feels his main role is to create a close-knit community.
“At Severna Park, we have a tradition of excellence, and I have the confidence that each member of the team is individually incredible even without my support, but a team can only achieve greatness with complete synergy,” Gerig said. “Several schools have incredibly intelligent students, but at Severna Park, we are truly a team.”
Bowman has been coaching the mock trial team for the past 12 years. She said what keeps her excited about mock trial is the kids and watching them grow in confidence and as people.
“They learn how to handle not just success but how to grow in failures and struggles,” Bowman said. “The students are capable by the end of delving into a case, possibly 100 pages, and developing nuanced arguments. Then they stand in front of a judge. It’s an amazing real-world application of what we teach in the classroom every day.”