Surreal. That word was heard over and over again after Orange High School’s Mock Trial Team Polaris won the title, "BEST IN THE STATE."
“Even two days later it still feels surreal that we have won because we have been so focused on the process that it’s hard to believe the true Mock Trial season has culminated with a championship,” effused advisor Mr. Mark Kimball. “What really makes it satisfying is that I can honestly say that when we were truly put to the test, we didn’t cut corners, and we won with integrity. We did it the right way.”
The student members of Team Polaris, including seniors Neil Agarwal, Jennifer Goodman, Tom Middleton, Tyler Nelson, Nathan Pflaum, and Simon Wieder, have been working together since freshman year. The first year, the team didn’t make it out of Districts. Their sophomore and junior years, the team made it to Regionals, but the invitation to States evaded them until this year.
“Instead of giving up, these six individuals stuck together and dedicated this season with one goal in mind: to ‘finish business’ not only as a team in getting to states but as a school in winning the whole thing since we had finished second in the state in both 2013 and 2014,” said advisor Mr. David Chordas, who coached the team along with advisors Kimball and Ms. Yang Yang. “I can’t tell you how proud we all are. These kids worked so hard and being state champs is well-deserved.”
Orange High School started out this season with 10 Mock Trial Teams including 80 students who competed at the District Tournament this year. Five of those teams, more than any other in Northeast Ohio, were invited to the Regionals. OHS’ Team Polaris was the only Orange team then invited to the State competition with a total of 37 top teams from around the state. At the State Tournament, Team Polaris had to win twice in the semi-final round getting the team a position in the top 10 and then received a bye which pushed the team through to the Elite 8. After defeating former state title holder Indian Hills, Team Polaris became the only Northern Ohio team to make it to the Final Four.
"Orange High School is certainly proud of all of our students' incredible academic achievements. The dedication, determination and diligent efforts of the members of Team Polaris are extraordinary and deserve the recognition they received at the State level," noted OHS Principal Dr. Paul Lucas.
The students’ continued hard work paid off not just with a State Title in the final televised trial against Dayton
Early College Academy, but with the two top individual awards including Best Attorney Tyler Nelson and Best Witness Simon Wieder. Each of the students on the team won at least one individual award throughout the various trials at the State level which is a first.
"I can say with confidence that my time in Mock Trial has made me who I am today -- not only have I enriched myself intellectually, but I’ve gained the ability to speak in public and think critically," said Neil Agarwal. "The relationships I’ve built with these five geniuses and the memories we’ve had together are going to stay with me throughout college and the rest of my life. Our team has failed in the past and I think those experiences have really humbled us. We learned not to take anything for granted or to feel entitled to success, and I think that mentality really propelled us to succeed this year."
Students in the Mock Trial program must study a fictional case and be prepared to argue the various sides of the case before a panel of judges. The 2016 case involves a police officer’s defense of the use of deadly force as well as an exploration of Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as it applies to the use of force by an officer. Students act as attorneys and witnesses in the case that was distributed to them in early fall. They work with legal advisors from the community as well which this year included Chuck Jarrett and School Board Member Jeff Leikin. Volunteer judges and attorneys serve as competition judicial panelists and evaluate both the prosecution and defense sides’ efforts to determine the winning teams.
At the State level the students appear before a panel of nine judges. After the trial, each one marveled at
the efforts of the OHS students, inviting them to join them in the legal field one day soon.
Noting the “civility and decorum” OHS students showed throughout the competition, multiple judges and organizers of the State Mock Trial event praised the Orange students on their “great presence” and an “absolutely outstanding effort across the board.”
The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association also congratulated Team Polaris for the team’s win as State Champions at the Ohio Mock Trial State Tournament in Columbus.
And while #finished business
has become the new hashtag for the team now that the State Title is in Team Polaris’ hands, the work is just beginning once again. The team now represents the State of Ohio at the National Mock Trial Competition in Boise, Idaho, May 12-14.
"The best part of winning is the satisfaction of knowing that all the work we have done over the past four years was worth it. Way back in Freshman year we set the goal that we would eventually be the best, and to finally achieve that goal is beyond what I can describe," said Tyler Nelson. "We were forced to perform as best as we possibly could, using everything that we've learned over the years, and I’m proud that my team and I were able to rise to the challenge."