Local mock trial champs head to nationals

April 22, 2009 7:31:11 PM PDT
Long winning streaks in high school sports usually get a lot of attention, but not much is said about teams that win mock trials year after year.

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It is an intense competition that involves some of the Bay Area's smartest kids. Now, a team from Marin County with a long tradition of victories is trying to become the best in the nation.

Last week was spring break at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. But, while most kids were relaxing, one group of dedicated teenagers was at school preparing for the fight of their lives.

During mock trials, teams of high school students coached by lawyers learn the details of a fictitious legal case. Then, they go to trial in real courtrooms with real judges. The students act as lawyers and witnesses. They compete against other schools, each getting a turn as the prosecution and the defense.

There are more than 400 mock trial teams in California and the Tamalpais High School team is one of the most successful. Tam High has won the Marin County Championship 14 years in a row. They often place in the top five in the state. In 2005 they were number one, then went on to win the national championship.

Now, they hope to do it again. Tam won the state competition in March and in two weeks they compete in Atlanta, Georgia, for the national title.

Their teacher Aaron Pribble says, "These kids are as competitive as any football, baseball or basketball player I have seen."

Despite the long string of wins, mock trials are not for lightweights. It is hard.

"It's definitely challenging, but that's what makes it fun," says student Ben Harris.

The backbone of the team is attorney David Vogelstein, who has volunteered as coach for 13 years.

"It's about pushing them, pushing them beyond their perceived limits and not letting them sit in their comfort zone," he says.

David got a tattoo when the team won state and nationals four years ago. He added to it when they won the California championship in March. And, he will add more if they win the national competition again.

The kids are putting in long hours to get ready but they are taught that the real secret is more than just good preparation.

"Be who you are and that's what's going to win it for you, not whether you know this exact rule and whether you memorized your closing argument," junior Abigail Kertzman says. "It's whether you let your personality and yourself shine through."

To help the Tamalpais High School Mock Trial team get to the national finals, make a tax deductible donation on line at http://www.tamhighfoundation.org or mail it to:

Tam High Foundation - Mock Trial Nationals Fund
700 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, California 94941
For information call (415) 380-3565

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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