Notre Dame 2L coaches mock trial team to first state finals

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After six years of struggling to secure a win, one northern Indiana high school mock trial team is ready to stand up against the big dogs.

For the first time, the South Bend Clay High School mock trial team will compete in the Indiana Bar Foundation’s Indiana High School Mock Trial state finals competition in Indianapolis this weekend. School faculty sponsor Dianna Christopher said the team has had to navigate a tough and competitive regional in previous years, but finally secured its spot in the state finals after placing fifth in its regional competition.  

“I appreciate this program because of what it teaches kids, and I’ve told the team that even if you don’t make it to state, what you’ve learned can’t be taken away,” Christopher said. “And the education far outweighs any title, this is just the icing on that cake.”

Things started to look up for the Clay High School team when Notre Dame School of Law 2L Henry Leaman volunteered to coach the students. 

“The law school has a history of helping local mock trial teams, but they hadn’t had any law students at Clay in a while,” Leaman said. “I jumped at the opportunity. It’s been a blast.”

With his extensive undergraduate and high school experience and knowledge of mock trial, Christopher said Leaman has whipped the team into shape since last year, with help from Notre Dame first year law students Paris Mayfield and Vivian Pham. Leaman said the students’ excitement and energy makes coaching them worthwhile. 

“It’s very fun to see how the students improve over the years, from being nervous doing tongue twisters in public to now reciting the rules of evidence at the drop of a hat,” he said. “I’m having law school level conversations with 15-year-olds.”

Team captain Veronica Navarro said Leaman has proved helpful in preparing the seven-member team for state finals, noting that four-hour practices are a lot more fun when you can relate to your coaches. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing all of the hard work that’s been put in finally pay off,” Navarro said. “We’re finally on the same playing field as other teams in our area, so although it’s intimidating, I think we’re all looking forward to it.”

Twenty-four teams from 11 Indiana schools will compete during the weekend-long competition, drawing approximately 200 Hoosier high schoolers to the Indianapolis City-County Building. In addition to Clay, Evansville’s Signature School will also compete at state for the first time. 

The first three rounds will be Saturday, with the fourth round Sunday morning. The top two teams chosen to compete in the state championship round will make their case at the Indiana War Memorial Sunday afternoon with Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David presiding. 

State championship winners will advance to the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Athens, Georgia, May 16-18. 

Even though Clay’s team will compete against some of the best in the state, Leaman knows their hard work will pay off. 

“In mock trial you play your best when you’re playing the best,” he said. “They put in a level of dedication and work ethic I haven’t seen before.”

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