In just four years, this fledgling organization has grown into a dynamic extracurricular program that is helping to shape the lives of dozens of some of the university's best and brightest students. The mock trial team, representing the Wittenberg Mock Trial Association, heads into this weekend's Ohio Valley Regional Tournament in Hamilton, Ohio, with hopes of further enhancing a burgeoning national reputation.
"It's a great feeling to help start something that has the potential to put Wittenberg in the national spotlight," said the organization's current president, Matt Reiss, class of 2007 from Beavercreek, Ohio. "When we began this club in 2003, we were a random bunch of students who didn't know an objection from a stipulation.
"Four years later, we're cracking the top 25 percent of mock trial teams nationwide. To me, it's the ultimate way of passing that light on to others."
The Wittenberg motto "Having Light, We Pass It On To Others" is obviously more than just a saying to Reiss, also a four-year letterwinner in swimming and diving and a team captain for the 2006-07 season. The economics major and the other 14 current members of the mock trial team dedicate hours of their time every week to preparing for competitions – not just for themselves but in hopes of building something greater in the future.
The individual education hasn't been too shabby either.
UPDATE: The Wittenberg Mock Trial Association Team finished 9th at the Ohio Valley Regional Tournament, with the top six teams earning bids to the two national tournaments.
Interestingly, Wittenberg had the smallest enrollment of the teams to finish in the top 10 (representing a total of five schools), and Wittenberg was the only top-10 finisher without multiple teams entered in the event.
Wittenberg finished with a 4-4 record for the weekend after going head-to-head with teams from The Ohio State University, the University of Dayton, Case Western Reserve University and Miami University. Individually, Greg Yeager, class of 2009 from Indiana, Pa., received all-regional honors for his witness role and Team Captain Eric Rey, class of 2007 from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., received all-regional honors and tied for top attorney.
Finally, the Wittenberg Mock Trial Association Team recieved the "Spirit of AMTA" award from the American Mock Trial Association, the highest award given next to national tournament bids. It is given to the team voted most professional and sportsmanlike by their peers.
"The legal experience from mock trial cannot be matched by anything else here at Wittenberg. Anyone considering a career in law should know what it's like before actually trying it, and mock trial was my way to learn if it was right for me."
The team was founded in 2003 with a minimal budget and a few dedicated students, led by Arthur Kraatz, class of 2007 from Medina, Ohio. After working with Lowell Stockstill, professor of management, to become the organization's first faculty adviser, Johnny Pryor, class of 1999, agreed to take time out from his work as assistant prosecutor for Clark County to serve as the team's coach.
Pryor and the students, most of whom were freshmen at the time, attended a total of three tournaments during the 2003-04 school year. Since then, the team has improved its standing in the regional tournament each year and even earned a berth in the 2005 and 2006 national tournaments in Kentucky and Minnesota respectively. The squad garnered honorable mention honors each year after compiling matching 3-4-1 records.
Despite the lack of a coach since Pryor moved to Indianapolis in 2005, the team has continued to improve the last two years, first with Miguel Martinez-Saenz, assistant professor of philosophy, as faculty adviser for two years and now with Edward Hasecke, assistant professor of political science, as its faculty adviser in 2006-07. After several solid finishes in 2006 fall tournaments, the team is well prepared for the 2007 regional tournament, which will include 21 teams representing 11 schools, and hopes to earn a bid to either the National Championship Tournament or the National Tournament.
With the Super Bowl approaching, Reiss compared earning a bid to the National Championship Tournament to a National Football League team earning a first-round bye in the playoffs, meaning those teams automatically make the final level. A bid to the National Tournament, which takes place this year March 16-18 at Northwestern University, gives teams another opportunity to reach the National Championship Tournament, which is scheduled for April 13-15 at Stetson University.
"Competitions are very intense, with hundreds of hours of preparation on the line during every trial," Reiss said. "Even with all that prep, you cannot predict every move opposing counsel will make.
"For people like me who learn best through experience, being a part of the mock trial team has been invaluable to my education here at Wittenberg. I've learned speaking skills, administrative strengths and a lot of legal knowledge."
By: Ryan Maurer
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