Posted On: Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Harding Mock Trial team: Front row (left to right): Adviser Ruth Pangrace, Connor Cimino, Maggie Pizzo, Cole Karel, Kathryn Urban and Callan Foran. Back row (from left): Alex Belardo, Sean Weddell, Hanna Szentkiralyi, Lauren Klann, Katherine Renaudin and Renee Klann.

Harding Middle School’s Mock Trial team is the best in the state, and there’s no arguing with that. The team earned the top score of all schools in earning a "Superior" rating at the Middle School Mock Trial State Showcase held April 14-15 at the Ohio State Judicial Center in Columbus. It also swept the “Best Attorney” and “Best Witness” awards in the competition, which drew 32 schools from across Ohio.

The competition, sponsored by the Ohio Center for Law Related Education, is designed to immerse the students in the American judicial process. This year’s competition was centered on a trial based on the historical fiction novel “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle,” by Avi. The book chronicles a 12-year-old girl’s grueling journey from England to America in 1802. Along the way, Charlotte is transformed by the events of a mutinous crew and is accused of murder by the captain.

The case for the competition is designed by teachers and lawyers based on Ohio’s content standards for Social Studies and Language Arts. The OCLRE believes it’s the perfect vehicle to boost students’ analytical thinking skills because it “combines students’ love of an argument with interactive learning,” the OCLRE web site touts.

In the competition, team members must fill the roles of attorneys and witnesses and serve as the prosecuting team in one trial and then as the defense team in another. The Harding crew claimed all the top awards in both of these trials. For the prosecution, Kathryn Urban was named “Best Attorney” while Connor Cimino and Cole Karel tied as “Best Witnesses” for their portrayal as two surly sailors. This was the third “Best Witness” win in a row for Cimino. Rounding out the prosecution team was attorney Katherine Renaudin and witness Sean Weddell.

The Defense team members impressed the judges, who are actual county and state judges, with their working knowledge of the court system and the law. Again, Harding's team took the "Best Attorney" award with Callan Foran’s performance. Maggie Pizzo was named "Best Witness" for her heartfelt portrayal of the old salt Zechariah. Alex Belardo supported the team as attorney, along with witnesses Lauren Klann and Renee Klann, who portrayed the accused Charlotte Doyle. Hanna Szentkiralyi served as bailiff.

All but one of the team members are eighth graders, with many of them having participated in the Mock Trial competition since 6th grade. The experience paid off.

“Both of the teams, prosecution and defense, impressed the judges at The Judicial Center with their preparedness, poise, and firm grasp of both the facts of the case and the judicial system,” teacher and team adviser Ruth Pangrace said. “These students researched, wrote, collaborated, questioned and rehearsed many many hours outside of the classroom. Few other activities provide such a challenging and creative outlet for students. I only wish more people could have been inside those imposing courtrooms to witness the team's performances. We are all so proud of these kids,” she said.

The successful trials came on the heels of months of preparation for team members, including many extra hours after school working with Pangrace and co-adviser Pete Kwiatkowski, an attorney and parent of a Harding 8th grader who Pangrace praised as key to providing the students valuable insight on how to succeed in the courtroom.

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