Mock trial championship sticks with Evansville, resets date for 2021

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About a month after Evansville got the heartbreaking news the National High School Mock Trial Championship would not be coming in May 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the city and legal profession were told not to roll up the welcome mat just yet.

The Indiana Bar Foundation announced Monday the schedule for the national competition had been adjusted to allow Evansville to host the event in May 2021, a year later than originally planned. Working with the National High School Mock Trial Competition Board of Directors and the states of Michigan and Arkansas, the bar foundation was able to get the two states to delay their own plans to host the national event in 2021 and 2022, respectively, so Evansville could move into next year’s slot.

“Fortunately, the goodwill of everybody involved helped make it happen,” said Charles Dunlap, executive director of the bar foundation. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Arkansas and Michigan.”

The national mock trial event pits high school teams against one another in a courtroom competition with the students filling the roles of the lawyers and witnesses. Usually attorney volunteers to preside over the hearing as the courtroom judge and a panel of attorneys rate the teams on their performances.

Evansville is one of the smallest cities to ever host the national contest, but the enthusiasm of the legal profession and the city provided the extra boost to make the event memorable. Evidence of the excitement around having the event in southern Indiana is shown by the fundraising that exceeded the $250,000 goal.

However, when COVID-19 began spreading across the country and other states began cancelling their regional mock trial competitions in order to keep students safe and healthy, Dunlap said the bar foundation realized it could not wait to make a decision. Shortly after the 2020 national finals were scrubbed, the bar foundation began reaching out to see what the options were for getting Evansville back in the mix.

Michigan was scheduled to host the national competition next year and Arkansas was scheduled the year after. Dunlap said the states were willing to help Indiana, but a key was getting their hotels to agree to push the booking back a year.

Dunlap praised Michigan and Arkansas as “excellent partners” and noted the national board along with the partners in Evansville including the city, the convention and visitors bureau and hotels stuck with the bar foundation to make the 2021 date possible.

Now, the national competition is scheduled to arrive in Evansville from May 13-15, 2021. Nearly 1,000 visitors, including students, parents and teachers, are expected to arrive in the southwestern Indiana city from across the United States, as well as from South Korea, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

At a virtual press conference announcing the new date, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David gave kudos to the individuals who played a role in getting the competition to Evansville next year. “It’s a testament to Indiana’s reputation nationally to get this done,” he said.

David and Southern Indiana District Court Judge Richard Young have been and will continue to be co-chairs of the Evansville national mock trial championship.   

Dunlap also highlighted the work of the legal community to make the event in Evansville a success. “We have been incredibly fortunate to have such great partnerships with the bar association, the court and volunteers,” he said.

Scott Wylie, who was part of the original effort to get the national competition to Evansville and has long championed the city, said the cancelation was “very devastating.” The planning was nearing the final stages with the various committees double-checking hotel rooms, enlisting photographers to take photos of the students and getting caps from Bosse Field, the city’s historic baseball stadium, to give as souvenirs to all the participants.

He said getting the mock trial championships to his hometown is “one of the proudest achievements of my career” and to have the city on schedule to host it in 2021 “is a very happy thing.”

The donors and sponsors as well as the volunteers who pledged their money and time will be asked to continue their commitment for a year. But Wylie and Dunlap are confident the level of support can be maintained.

Dunlap said none of the contributors have pulled their donations, but the bar foundation is looking to give some added value, possibly some recognition at next year’s regional mock trial competition in Indiana, to the donors and sponsors. Also, Wylie said so far those attorneys and judges who have volunteered are planning to help in 2021.

“We’re excited and pleased they are staying with us,” Dunlap said.

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