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'As real as it gets' - St. Charles North students excel as part of mock trial team

ST. CHARLES – Someone notify counsel. The St. Charles North High School mock trial team has grown so adept at making arguments that some members could dispute the very title of their favorite extracurricular.

“This thing is as real as it gets,” North senior Ryan Wolak said. “I mean, you get the case from the beginning, you get all the facts, and you have to put them together, create your case, and then eventually get to try it in the court. I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t seen it all, but I don’t know any other club or anything of the sort that gets you this close to a real-life, professional experience.”

You’ll find no objections from Wolak’s teammates or coaches who collaborated on a victory at the Illinois State Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitational, which took place March 10 to 12 at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign.

North’s second state championship in four years earned the program a spot in the National High School Mock Trial Championship on May 11 to 13 in Hartford, Conn.

The contingent likes its chances as the nature of its work has provided a palpable boost in self-esteem.

“It really helps you with confidence and speaking in public and forming arguments,” said senior Zach Furlin, a three-year co-captain who was part of the 2014 state championship team as a freshman. “I think I’ve really developed as a citizen of America because of this program.”

Added classmate Blake Yang: “Because it’s a public speaking club, stress is an inherent part of it. But [it’s] especially emphasizing that stress is a time of growth in that you’re learning things if you feel uncomfortable, if you’re stressing about something.”

Longtime program head coach Janelle VanDeSampel, a member of North’s social studies faculty, is joined by assistant Robin Roberts, an English teacher. The staff also includes attorney coach Patrick Crimmins, a St. Charles native and prosecutor for the law firm Brady & Jensen LLP, which has practices in Geneva and Elgin.

Crimmins boasts nearly three decades of high school mock trial consulting experience in his hometown. He lauds the North administration for its support of the burgeoning activity – the school counts 30 participants, enough to form a junior varsity – and is equally bullish about the team’s versatility.

Per mock trial structure, North students try both the plaintiff and defense sides of one hypothetical case during a six-month season, fulfilling the roles of most everything but judge and jury. By design, students have not repeated rosters or roles from one tournament to the next.

“It’s critical thinking, analytical thinking, thinking on your feet,” Crimmins said. “Our team tries to avoid being robotic and rehearsed. That’s why I call them street fighters because we are reacting to live testimony and live events. Some teams are not as reactive as we are, and so we take pride in that. They’re very, very, intelligent kids, obviously, and they certainly understand the problem before they go and try the case.”

Working to internalize a new case for nationals, North enters the competition with the same confidence that has steeled it throughout what Crimmins called a “dominant” season.

“Our parts are constantly changing, even throughout the year,” senior Maynard Maganini said. “And that helps us because we’re not just doing our part, we’re understanding the case in general.”

Want to help?

Those interested in supporting the St. Charles North High School mock trial team and its upcoming trip to the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Hartford, Conn., can make checks payable to St. Charles North High School and send to the attention of Patrick Crimmins at 2425 Royal Blvd., Elgin, IL 60123.

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