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Rocklin High Mock Trial team holds court

Students get courtroom experience, practice for the real thing
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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More success for Rocklin High students

Rocklin High School competed successfully last weekend at the Capitol Valley Forensics League National Qualifying Tournament. Prithvi Rajasekaran, junior, and Rahul Verma, senior, placed second and third, respectively, in United States Extemporaneous Speaking. The league receives two spots in this event for the National Tournament, June 16-21, in Birmingham, Ala. Rajasekaran was the second qualifier and Verma the first alternate. In addition, the two were Rocklin's first debate qualifiers for the California State Tournament at last month's qualifying event and Verma is Rocklin's first double-qualifier for the California State Tournament, qualifying in both debate and extemporaneous speaking.

 

Some Rocklin High School students are more acquainted with a courtroom environment than others, but far from being troublemakers, they are among the school’s best and brightest.

These are members of the school’s Mock Trial team, one of only three in the county and an ideal way for future judges and lawyers to hone their legal knowledge, debate tactics and oratory skills.

Head coach Michael Lang said the team acquitted itself well as the Placer County champion in a state competition in Riverside last month, the team’s first appearance at the state level since 2007. Serving as attorneys, jurors, bailiffs, clerk/recorders and other positions, 15 Rocklin students held court before a real presiding judge and received scores from a panel of judges and lawyers. The team lost to students from San Diego, defeated Santa Barbara and Napa County teams and finally lost to a group from San Joaquin County to place 23rd out of 35 overall.

Lang said their placement is misleading, as they scored very well, with 262 points out of a possible 285. By comparison, the sixth-place team that defeated them scored 266, and the team that eventually won fourth place suffered its only defeat to Rocklin.

A 2007 alumnus of the team himself, Lang said the national program is more than 30 years old in California and has been an invaluable lesson in legal process and public speaking for students at Rocklin High School since 1996. Though the program’s only presence in Placer County is at Rocklin, Del Oro and Oakmont high schools, Lang is speaking with county and city officials to bring it to Antelope, Colfax, Granite Bay, Placer and Woodcreek high schools this fall.

“Thinking on your feet is another big asset, when you’re caught unprepared or someone asks for something last-minute and you don’t have time to prepare,” he said. “It’s a really good opportunity to learn how to be able to answer questions you just don’t know are coming. It’s something that isn’t very prominent in a lot of places, and I think it should be. It’s a program that does a lot for a kid that not a lot of other programs can do, with how many different skill sets you can learn from just being on one team.”

Completing his fourth and final year as an attorney for the Mock Trial team, Team Captain Rahul Verma credited the experience with setting his career path in law, which he will begin to study this fall at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Mock Trial really builds critical thinking skills,” he said. “Because you have to look at the facts of the case as well as the law and learn to apply them … to make any side appear to a third party, and that’s something you have to do especially in English, but even in math, you have to think, ‘How do I make these facts work with each other?’ It’s a universal skill.”

Also aiming for UC Berkeley this fall, 17-year-old Amanda Wong said her years on the Mock Trial team as a pretrial and defense attorney gave her a newfound confidence in public speaking that have already paid off. She recently placed first in a local Rotary Club competition for which she went go to regionals last week, an achievement she attributes to her practice in the courtroom.

“I gained a lot of confidence in my speaking. I also learned how to debate,” she said. “Before I joined Mock Trial, I didn’t know how to speak in public at all, whether it was in an interview setting or a casual setting, it was just awkward in general, speaking in public. But now it’s something that I really enjoy.”

Lang said the case is closed for four team members who will graduate this year, each an attorney, but the team’s bench is deep.

Prithvi Rajasekaran, a junior who also qualified for a national speech competition next month, left no room for debate – he will be back next year.

“I think Mock Trial is a fantastic experience. It’s been an incredible amount of fun, and there’s been a lot of dedication to the team among the team members,” he said. “There are the basics, things like organizational skills, being able to analyze a case and the public speaking aspect of it, and then beyond that there are the things that just involve the team, like cohesiveness, building friendships and things like that.”