BERKELEY – Think it’s easy being a member of the Central Regional High School Mock Trial team?
Mock trial team members put in an average of four hours a day for their team responsibilities this past season. And that was before they got to their homework.
A typical day for senior Kelsey Jopling, who is also this year’s valedictorian, included four hours of mock trial practice each school day after class. She would get home at night, maybe take a nap between 11 p.m. and midnight, then hit the books for her regular homework.
“I lost a lot of sleep,” she said.
They all did. But it was worth the work. Atticus Finch would have been proud. And Scott Alfano, the team’s longtime faculty advisor, certainly is.
“This is the farthest Central has ever gone,” he said. “It was a fun year.”
The Central Regional team came in first out of 11 Ocean County high schools that competed and came in fifth in the New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s Mock Trial competition quarterfinals in New Brunswick recently. They lost to Mainland High School, a school some members would prefer not to mention. Mainland foiled them last year, too.
“…the fact that they were just one of six teams left in this competition in the entire state speaks volumes,” according to a post on the Central Regional Family Facebook page. “That in itself made CR history!”
One of the qualifying trials was even held in historic Courtroom One in the Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River.
The Central Regional Board of Education plans to recognize the team members this week at the March 21 board meeting.
“The administration is very supportive of our mock trial team,” said Alfano, who has helped coach the team for years and has been the head advisor for ten years.
The mock trial team started out with 11 members at the beginning of the year and ended up with nine by the end of the season. They beat out the other high school teams in Ocean County before they made it to the state quarterfinals.
The team members include Kelsey Jopling, Elexa Argento, Margaux Ward, Ryan Tomaino, Aaron Lombardi, Noah Schaad, Danielle Irey, Victoria Kerins and Rudolph Dombrowski.
Isabella Triolo is the co-captain of the mock trial team.
Alfano is also grateful for the help provided by assistant coach and former team member Andrew Fantasia, who is now a senior at Stockton University.
“We definitely wouldn’t have gotten to this point without him,” Alfano said.
Next year, only one of the current team members will be eligible to compete, because all but one of them are seniors, he said.
Although judges and student juries preside over the regional and statewide trials, the jury verdicts are not “significant in the judges’ decisions,” according to the New Jersey State Bar Association’s website.
How the teams make their cases is what counts.
“This decision of guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or finding in favor of the plaintiff or defendant in a civil case, does not determine which team wins or advances to the next round,” the website states.
Whoever wins depends on the quality of the students’ performances and the best team presentation. The judges also rate the performance of all witnesses and attorneys on the team. Judges provide evaluations and announce the winning team before the jury delivers its verdict, according to the website.
The state Mock Trial competition is now in its 37th year and has won a number of national awards. Last year 214 teams registered statewide.
The New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s Mock Trial Competition is made possible by a network of support and cooperation from New Jersey’s 21 County Bar Associations. To learn more about the foundation, go to njsbf.org/events/