By MJ Brickey
Associate Judge Jim D. Bland says he is very proud of the McAlester High School students who took fifth place at Oklahoma State Mock trail competitions recently.
Bland serves as one of the team’s three coaches and said the MHS Mock Trial team only started four years ago.
By participating in mock trial, students learn the principles of trial advocacy and then apply those principles as they try a fictitious case, according to Bland.
Bland says that mock trial builds self-confidence and professional skills such as improved analytical and public speaking and how to work well with peers.
He said the team is doing very well for such a young roster. Not only did the McAlester team do well this year, it ranked seventh last year.
The team lost all experienced members last year, but John Ward was a strong player this year, taking on roles of defense and plaintiff as a senior.
Bland said that senior Carter Eaton came into mock trial for the first time this year, exemplifying great skill and self-motivation. Eaton also played roles on both sides of the courtroom spectrum.
Bland said all team members must be self-motivated individuals, because much of the case must be studied on their own time. He said a team member must know 100-page case files inside and out because if they do not, they could get called out on it in court by the other side by a witness or an attorney.
“All of these kids are good kids,” Bland said, and added when the team goes to events they represent McAlester well.
Bland said he has received compliments on the hard work, good demeanor and respectfulness of the MHS Mock Trial team students and they are respected in return.
The team made it in to the final four at the semi-finals, he said, but the way the bracket is set up they come in at fifth place. They were eliminated in the semi-finals by Jenks High School.
The team came back from the tournament determined to not only take state next year, but to make nationals.
He said when the team met, they had a 30-minute discussion and came back with 15 commitments for next season.
The students start the year by practicing two times a week — Tuesday and Thursday — but also must spend much of their own time studying case files, Bland said. As the competitions near, the number of practice days grows and when it gets close to state competitions, the teams even practice on a weekend day.
He said he and the other three coaches — teacher Kelly Richards, Pittsburg County Assistant District Attorney Charles Sullivan and Judge Tim Mills — are volunteers.
Bland said many schools around the state have mock trial as a class and part of curriculum. He said McAlester schools are considering it, but the addition of mock trial to the curriculum raises other questions such as how to accommodate the program.
Currently there is no budget for the MHS Mock Trial team, Bland said. He said donations from attorneys in the area help pay for hotel stays and costs associated with the competition.
Bland said they started mock trial with 40 team members and ended with 14.
He said it is hard to make predictions on how things are going to go in the next season, because there is so much that can happen to affect the outcome. However, he said he looks forward to the next season.
Other MHS Mock Trial team members are Rhylee Sandford, Eric Raunikar, Nick Porter, Colton James, Nick Santine, Josh Lane, Michelle Elkins, Emily Johnson, Hunter Brewer, Nathan Neu Auston Graham and Michael Newman.