Zak Steinhauser ’19 states his case

Mock trial team captain, Zak Steinhauser '19 (front row, second from left), said his teammates are like family.

By Zak Steinhauser ’19

“It’s the perfect mix of acting, debate and public speaking! You should definitely join.”

Those were the words of Uzo Achebe, Class of 2016 student body president and all-around amazing person. I was just three weeks into my Peddie career, and I had already found what seemed to be the perfect club for me. I attended an interest meeting the next week, signed up for tryouts and began to daydream. Thoughts of being a star witness or a killer lawyer swam around my head. Little did I know, Peddie’s mock trial team would soon become my family, a home away from home where I could laugh, let loose, and learn everything I’d ever wanted to know about the judicial process.

As our faculty advisor Ms. Cozine explained the audition process, I couldn’t help but notice I was the lone ninth grader in a sea of upperclassmen. How could I possibly win a spot on the team if these kids were trying out?!

Auditions were conducted in the form of a direct examination, with one student assuming the role of lawyer with the job of questioning the other student, a witness. I had never even watched a trial on TV, let alone been a part of one. I felt like I was in way over my head.

All of my fears quickly subsided as I realized I was being partnered with the same girl who had convinced me to join mock trial. Uzo! In the hands of such a capable leader, I went into the audition confidently (maybe even too confidently…)  and walked out with a spot on the team.

In mock trial, schools across the state are presented with a 100-page document that details the ins and outs of that year’s case. Each school is then given roughly four months to craft their own directs, crosses, openings and closings. Everything that goes into building our case happens during those four months, culminating in a competition where schools go head-to-head in a fight to the death! Well, maybe it’s not a fight to the death, but it sure feels like it sometimes.

The defense team from one school argues against another school’s prosecution (or plaintiff) team, all in front of an actual judge in the Mercer County Civil Courthouse (cool, I know). At the end of each trial, a winner is announced, and if a school manages to win both their defense and prosecution, they move on to the semi-finals where they do it all over again. All-in-all, it adds up to around 6 hours of experience in an actual courtroom each year, meaning I’ve now spent almost a full day in a courthouse without having to commit a single crime!

Discounting the joy that comes from the actual casework itself, the thing that made me want to join mock trial each year was the group of kids who did it with me. Freshmen, seniors, day students, boarders, musicians, rowers ... mock trial has the unique effect of uniting students who may never have crossed paths. It gives us common ground. I have had countless interactions with my mock trial teammates that spanned much more than just the case.

Mock trial fosters an environment where students learn to feel comfortable talking to people who aren’t in their dorm or classes, and in front of a courtroom! I am proud to call myself team captain of such a wonderful team and such a wonderful family.

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