The ZHS team defeated Redemptorist High School and a team from West Feliciana High in order to advance to the regional championship, where they lost to Baton Rouge Magnet High School.
By advancing to the regional finals, the ZHS team becomes one of eight teams that will participate in the state mock trial tournament to be held in Lafayette on March 23. This will be the third trip to the state tournament for the ZHS mock trial team, says Social Studies teacher and team sponsor/coach, Chris Staggs. He's been the mock trial coach since 1996, and ZHS has competed consistently since 1999.
The mock trial team includes under and upperclassmen Allison Burton, Katy Cop, Regan Helmick, Jordan Kozar, Kaitlin Maloy, Jackie Odom and Rachel Rusk.
Assisting Staggs is ZHS Social Studies teacher Adrienne Hodgkins. Attorney coach for the team is Zachary attorney Craig Kaster.
To become a member of the mock trial team, Staggs says students just need apply. However, he admits he usually recruits some of the kids from his government and honors civics classes. "We practice a lot," Staggs said. "I warn them all, it's almost like taking on another class with all the preparation that goes into this."
The students have been preparing consistently since January during lunch breaks, in the afternoons and evenings and on the weekends. "The students involved in the mock trial team are also in BETA, they play golf or participate in many other extracurricular activities," Staggs said.
The preparation includes learning the points of the case, rehearsing, preparing, learning rules of evidence and procedures. Students take on the roles of the attorneys and witnesses, some playing dual-witness roles or dual-attorney roles. They learn how to object, how to ask and answer questions and how to respond on the stand.
Team members must be well-rehearsed to both prosecute and defend the case, and they receive no help from the coaches during the mock trial. "They just have to own the fact that they must present both sides of the case and present them well," Staggs said.
He explained that each team is guaranteed two rounds each, and all teams competing are given the same case, the same set of facts.
This year's case closely resembles that of the real-life criminal trial of a college kid charged with the hazing and manslaughter of a band student.
ZHS has made it to the regionals for the past eight years, and in 2009 finished second overall in the state competition.
"You really have no idea what's going to go down once you're there," says Staggs, "so experience really helps, which is why second-year teams always do better. But if these kids want to do well at competition, they have to be really into it."
The students have been fortunate enough to have the expertise of Zachary attorney Chris Kaster. "They love him," Staggs said. "It's an advantage if you can find an attorney to give up his or her time to dedicate to these kids. We are grateful."
Each round during the competition is judged by volunteer attorneys from the local bar association within the city hosting the mock trial.
"It is a mentally exhausting day for them. At regionals, they compete for two days, and the state competition is a one-day event, but they never know of they'll be the prosecution or the defense and sometimes they're both," Staggs explained. "But they love it, as do I."
"I like the challenge of trying to outthink the other side," said Junior Kaitlin Maloy.
Jackie Odom says her dual-attorney role can be really stressful.
Senior Katy Cop says this year she is a police officer and a member of a sorority.
Rachel Rusk, a senior, is the defendant in the case. "I love strategizing how to get out of being impeached, and I like to be cross-examined. I'm actually more calm when being cross-examined as opposed to the direct examination."
"I like seeing all the work put together from the start of regionals to the state competition," said Sophomore Jordan Kozar.
We wish the ZHS Mock Trial team good luck on March 23!