By: Ayaan Ahmad — Correspondent
For the first time in over ten years, the SHS Mock Trial Team has made it to the National Championship round, triumphing through seven straight trials.
Sharon High School’s Mock Trial Team, led by senior captains Alex Tao, Emily Mao, Rahem Hamid, and Steven Liao, and teacher advisor Laura Stulga, has been hard at work this year preparing and practicing for each trial against other competitive high schools in Massachusetts. The State Championship round took place on Thursday, March 25, 2021, and they faced Newton North High School. Although both teams performed extremely well, Sharon took the win and is headed to the National High School Mock Trial Tournament in May.
Due to Covid-19, all trials this year were held over Zoom, allowing for a safe environment while still keeping the tension of a courtroom. Although this seemed like a setback at first, many students on the team seized this opportunity to work harder and more efficiently, leading Sharon through an undefeated season.
Mao says that the extra time and freedom were the biggest contributing factors to this year’s success. “The biggest difference was the amount of time we put in this year. Because everyone had less school work overall, all of our members spent a massive amount of personal time writing and rewriting, reading and rereading, and learning and relearning every single detail of the case and the rules of the court,” she said.
Fellow Captain Hamid agrees, saying “It’s added a level of flexibility that has allowed us to practice more – we practiced over February break and the occasional weekend, and so we were definitely able to work harder.”
Not only did the virtual season give students extra time to prepare before trials, but there were also advantages during the trials themselves. Sophomore Trisha Brahmachari says “It was included in the rules that the six attorneys on each team could have a group chat to text in throughout the course of the trial. I think that this really helped in terms of making sure everyone was on the same page. It was also helpful to have while questioning a witness.”
Brahmachari also says she feels as though the captains put in their all to help the team be the best they can be. “I think our captains play a HUGE role in our success. They put so many hours into analyzing and perfecting all of our examinations, making sure all of our attorneys were prepared for anything that may come up in court. I think the level of how prepared we all were going into a trial was what really helped us,” she said.
Advisor Laura Stulga and attorney coaches Lisa Beatty and Kristin Weberg also put in lots of time to help the students thrive as a team. “And of course our success would not have been possible without the dedication of our coach, Ms. Stulga, who sits through far more captain debates after practice than she needs to, and our attorney coaches, Lisa Beatty and Kristin Weberg, who helped teach us real court applications of objections,” said Mao.
This year also provided opportunities for Sharon to go up against schools that they normally would not be able to. Stulga sees this opportunity as a helpful advantage, saying, “Normally, we are limited to scrimmaging (and even competing) with teams in our geographical region, but having a virtual season allowed us to reach out and get in those practice trials with teams from much farther away. By scrimmaging and eventually competing with teams from all over Massachusetts, the Mock Trial team was able to gain more perspective by experiencing varied voices on how to tackle the case.”
Although the virtual year has its clear advantages, it also comes with a price. “Obviously, the thrill of an in-person trial, the essential skills of managing yourself in a courtroom, and the familial environment that comes up with spending hours every week with the same people in person – that’s all lacking, and it’s really sad,” Hamid added, “I feel for the new members especially, and I do hope they return next year to experience that.”
Junior Daniel Okstein sees similar flaws with the virtual season. “The obvious main thing that was different about this year was the lack of in-person practices and trials. Normally we have snacks before practices and hang out so that was something that I missed from normal years,” he said.
At the start of the season, many members of the team didn’t expect to make it to states, let alone nationals. For the most part, it seemed as though this year would be no different from previous years. Mao, along with many of her teammates, knew that they were capable of going to nationals, but, based on their record from the past few years, it seemed unlikely. “Coming off of a 2-1 season last year where we did not even make it to states and a close states run in Sophomore year where we were beaten by Newton South in the sweet 16 trials, I never thought that this year would be any different,” she said.
To many on the team, this win is a dream come true–especially for seniors who have been members of the team for many years. “Making it this far was always a dream – I’ve personally, at least, been dreaming of this since sophomore year at LEAST. I always hoped, and we always fell a little short. This year, to make it this far, it still hasn’t sunk in. I’ve always imagined we could win, but to actually do it – it’s something else,” said Hamid.
For newer members, this win was an excellent start to their Mock Trial journey and will inspire them to continue on this path. Brahmachari was surprised to make it this far, given the fact that it is only her second year on the team. “I think that at the beginning of the season, even making it into States seemed like a big deal and a bit of a reach to me. When we won the trial that guaranteed our position in States, I fully expected that we would make it into the finals; however, I had no clue that we would end up winning and becoming state champions,” she said.
As for the future of Mock Trial, many seniors on the team see good things to come. “We have several sophomores and juniors that participated in the state tournament, so they’ve faced many good teams which should benefit them in the future,” Liao said.
Hamid adds to this, saying, “Making nationals (for only the second time ever!) will provide an excellent opportunity for our underclassmen – we’ll be competing with the best of the best in the United States, and that’s always incredible. I really hope that this successful season is the start of an amazing trend.”
As well as benefiting newer members, this year’s success will also attract and inspire more students to join the team. “I think having won the State Championship Trial and gaining some recognition will draw more attention to the team. We are always looking for new members, as it brings more perspectives to the case, which is always a good thing,” said Stulga.