Mock trial team reigns supreme at KU tournament

James Ahrens

The Mock Trialing Bods, Washburn University’s mock trial team coached by Jim Schnoebelen, competed recently in the Bluejay Invitational in Omaha, Neb.

The “A” team, which consists of Jenna Seematter, Michelle Neis, Heather Gelsinger, Courtney Brokaw, Jane Billinger and Josh Maples, went undefeated. The team, known during the trial as #1043, had an 8-0 record the previous week in a tournament at Kansas University.

Schnoebelen said the American Mock Trial Association assigns individual teams numbers, ideally to promote a sense of equality among competitors and critics who may claim that certain schools, say Harvard or Yale, might benefit because of their name or school identity. Using a random number is one way to ensure equality.

“The scoring system is complicated,” said Schnoebelen. He said there are several ballots and two judges per round. Each competitor is assigned, both in performing as witnesses and attorneys, up to 20 ranks based on varying criteria such as structure, use of legal terms, authenticity of character/witness, knowledge of the case/role, etc. Typically, all of these scores are added together and the team with the most points wins the trial/ballot.

“The wins at both KU and Creighton send a clear message to the other schools who we will see at the regional tournaments, that Washburn means business,” said Schnoeblen. “Our success tells [other schools] that we are the ones to beat and, in some way, it also helps to establish Washburn as an intimidating force at tournaments.”

Maples said each round consists of two ballots and a tournament consists of four rounds. A case is assigned at the beginning of the year with evidence, an affidavit and the law concerning the case. The case is set in the fictional “Midlands” where three attorneys and three witnesses flesh out case theories. Each year the team is either plaintiff or prosecution with civil or criminal cases, respectively. “For us to take first, it was awesome,” said Maples.

For students interested in Mock Trial, the team is fostered in the Communications department. Both Debate and Mock Trial are part and parcel in the utilization of argumentative/deliberative communication, although “the goals, strategies, and techniques are different,” said Schnoeblen. “Mock Trial is, by its very nature, more concerned with team success, whereas debate tends to emphasize the individual or the pair of individuals.”

“I think that we are getting better…and starting to work more as a team as the year progresses and we go to more tournaments,” said Katelin Harrell.

“People know who we are because of our past success and our domination this year,” said Schnoebelen. “That creates a definite psychological benefit us in competing against these teams in the future.”