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The scenario before Southview High School’s Mock Trial team was clear: Danny Dawson chose to drive after consuming several alcoholic drinks at a bar, killing his friend in the front seat of his car.
The students’ defensive strategy in the fictitious synopsis: The night was dark. It was raining. A deer appeared on the road in front of the fictional Mr. Dawson’s car. It was an accident that could happen to anyone, and not a result of drinking or excessive speed.
That strategy earned the Sylvania team a world title after a three-day mock trial competition recently in New York City.
Team members, who returned to school Wednesday after the victory, paraded the halls of Southview during the lunch hour, sporting their trophy while members of the school’s band followed along playing the fight song.
They beat out 39 other teams from five countries at the Empire City Invitational world tournament to clinch the championship, beating a team from Atlanta International High School in the final round. To be specific — they reigned victorious over teams that included 12 current state champions, 10 former state champs, and seven international champions, said Denny Lyle, a local trial attorney for Anspach Law in Toledo who coached the winning team. Mr. Anspach organized Southview’s mock trial program 19 years ago as a way to get his daughter, Jenelle, and son, Jared, involved in the legal world.
“This is the big boy in the mock trial world,” Mr. Lyle said. “You have to qualify and you have to have the credentials. Our team, there’s really no other way to say it, has all the records.”
The Southview program over the years has pulled in five state titles. This was the third time it qualified for the international competition, and the program’s first world title.
Scenarios are given to competing teams three months before the competition. Each team competes in five rounds — two as a defense team and two in which they present the prosecution’s case. In the final round, the Southview students worked as a defense team for the young Dawson, who was found not guilty by a panel of New York attorneys who made up both jury and competition judge, in an 8-5 vote.
“We have to take what they give us and interpret it, then give our own spin on it,” said Claire Coder, 16, a junior who took on the role of giving opening statements for the prosecution in the case.
Teams are given a preliminary ranking before the world competition begins based on performances. Ironically Southview found itself at the bottom of the pile; seeded 35th out of 40 teams before entering the championship round.
“There were times we didn’t believe in ourselves,” said Yuran Chen, 17, a senior on the mock trial team who is interested in going into law, and was also awarded the title of best attorney in the competition. “But we prepared for this like we were going to win.”
In addition to Claire and Yuran, team members were Eric Zhu, Shaleen Goel, Katherine Ellis, Sevil Clifford, Catherine Dong, Lilly Yan, Nikila Luke, and Zachary Poczekaj (who was awarded best witness).
In the last three months, the team worked with Sylvania police Sgt. Justin Music, Municipal Judge Scott Ramey and Chief Toxicologist Dr. Robert Forney of the Lucas County Coroner’s office to learn the ins and outs of court proceedings, Mr. Lyle said.
The Sylvania Community Action Team and the school’s parent’s club each donated $500 to the trip. The school donated $1,000, and Mr. Lyle and his wife, Vicki, who also helped coach the team along with Toledo attorney Tony Turley, donated $500.
Southview Principal David McMurray said the team will be honored during a pep rally on Nov. 1 before the football game against Northview High School.
The Southview team next prepares to compete against 350-plus teams in state competition that runs from February through March in Columbus. It is overseen by the Ohio Center for Law Related Education. Winners of that competition move on to a national forum in May.
Contact Roberta Gedert at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6081.