The Ventura County Courthouse was stuffed full of high school kids, rushing and yelling in every direction, flying around in high heels or a suit and tie. But despite all the commotion and noise, under the surface, there is a method to the madness of the crowd. And this is true for the mock trial teams that flow through the halls of the courthouse, frantically making last second preparations for their upcoming matches.
Preparation for the competition, from February 22 through February 25, starts in September. Ciara Henderson, senior, has been on mock trial for four years, and is the lead attorney for the prosecution on the Newbury Park Gold team. “First we start reading the case and all of the witness statements and the crime that happened,” Henderson said.
But that is only the beginning. Once the basic facts are out of the way, auditions must be held. “We divide up the team through auditions into witnesses and attorneys,” Henderson said. “Once we decide teams we start to be able to look at each witness in accordance with the law and what exactly we have to prove. So then we start taking it apart like that,” Henderson said.
After months of preparation by studying laws and past court cases, practice, and scrimmages against other teams, it is time to go to competition. Zack Veazey, senior, played the defendant during this year’s competition. Veazey has been on mock trial for four years, and is also a member of the Newbury Park Gold team. As the defendant in the case, there is a lot of pressure to perform well. “Well, particularly this year that’s how I got into character. It was a lot of pressure,” Veazey said.
But it is not just Veazey who feels the pressure: The entire team feels it. With so much time and hard work put into every last detail, everyone on the team is under pressure. “It’s actually really, really grueling. It was absolutely intense,” Henderson said.
But the nerves did not get in the way of success. After two days of competition, out of every team there competing from the Ventura County area, Newbury Park Gold was ranked second.
Another Newbury Park team, Newbury Park Prowler, also performed well. It was a team made up of mostly of freshman with a few sophomores. Rohan D’Souza, sophomore, was one of the few members on the Prowler team with experience. “Since most of them were freshman, it was new to most of them. But they were pretty prepared by the time that competition rolled around,” D’Souza said.
Prowler team received a hard test early. They were put against La Reina High School, one of the best in Ventura County who had finished in the top four teams for the last few years, and had made the top eight in the last twenty straight years. But despite all of La Reina’s talent, and all of the inexperience on the Prowler team, Prowler beat La Reina. “It was pretty big for the Prowler team because a lot of people didn’t have faith in themselves. So it was a big confidence booster for a lot of the Prowler team, showing that we actually can succeed,” D’Souza said about the win.
The Newbury Park Gold team came off of early success, and headed into the first round of the semi-finals. “It’s always a combination of being really excited and really nervous, a lot of pride in what I do and a lot of pride for my team. I’m always excited to be the first to talk and to get out there and to show the other teams what we do,” Henderson said, speaking about starting the first round of eliminations.
Once eliminations start, all the chips are on the table. “If we make it, it’s like all or nothing at that point. It gets worse as there’s less chances,” Veazey said.
Coming out of the first round of eliminations, the Gold team felt great. “We were very confident. The other team thought they lost, our attorney coaches were really confident, and the scorers were all very positive to us, the judge loved us and it was really good,” Veazey said.
But, when the team went to check the scores, they realized that they had lost, and that their season of mock trial was over. “Well, the first round of semi-finals was I think heart-breaking to all of us, because I thought we did really well in the trial and we all thought we won, and when we looked at the scoreboard, it had us losing,” Henderson said, remembering that moment clearly.
But it was not all doom and gloom. “This is the first year where every round that we did was an amazing round. We didn’t have any mistakes that we could have avoided. We did really well each round, which was definitely something that we were happy with,” Veazey said. The team found that accomplishment to hang their hats on until next year’s competition.
Although Veazey is a senior, and he will not be returning for any more mock trial competitions, he also found something to take away from his four years on the team. “It’s a good way for me to overcome insecurities and anxieties. It has helped me out in that way,” Veazey said.