Broadneck High wins state mock trial championship


May 04, 2000|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DESPITE HAVING a substitute coach, Broadneck High School defeated Baltimore City College last week by the narrow score of 55-53 to win a state championship.

The coach was attorney Cynthia Ferris, master in chancery in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, and the playing field for Friday's match was Maryland's Court of Appeals.

Broadneck won the state mock trial championship.

Ferris, filling in for Brian McNamara as Broadneck's attorney-coach for a month, said she never dreamed how much she would enjoy the students and the case -- taking the defense in a trial involving unauthorized access to a computer system.

The students praised the guidance Ferris provided in helping them defeat City College -- the nation's third-oldest public high school.

In Ferris' opinion, "Anybody over 40 would have trouble understanding the case."

The event was Ferris' first experience coaching a mock trial team. Her days are usually spent hearing cases about juveniles on the other side of the law, and she was amazed how "the kids took every suggestion I made and ran with it."

"They practiced with me two or three days a week for a month, and when we weren't together, they practiced on their own." Because her part-time coaching position proved to be such a rewarding experience, she's considering taking on duties as a full-time coach next year.

She adds, "I would hope I'd be assigned to Broadneck."

The 12 team members also praised the work of Court of Appeals Judge Dale R. Cathell -- one of seven jurists on the state's high court -- who oversaw the final competition. The judge thrilled the young lawyers when he appeared in the courtroom wearing an elegant red robe like the ones worn by judges in 17th-century Maryland.

"He had a good attitude during the trial and was very nice," said senior Patrick Stone, 17, son of Kevin and Barbara Stone of Arnold. "You could cut the tension in that room with a knife at the state level, but thanks to the [state] bar association, it was a very positive atmosphere."

Each trial team has six participants in a case -- three attorneys and three witnesses -- who win points based on their questions and answers at trial.

Mary Campbell Hergenhan, director of the 17-year-old mock trial program for the Maryland State Bar Association, says in some states the competition is just a two-week endeavor -- but not here.

"Maryland has the second-largest program in the country in terms of length -- it lasts a whole academic year -- and second-largest in size: One hundred and thirty mock trial teams participated this year in Maryland, with over 1,500 students," she said,

Hergenhan represents the Citizen Law-Related Education Program for the Schools of Maryland, the educational arm of the state bar association.

"The kids from Broadneck are typical of mock trial teams," Hergenhan says. "They are enthused, proud, confident of what they can do, and they do it well."

"The thing I enjoy most about mock trial club is probably the preparation," said Josh Beall, a 16-year-old junior and son of Richard and Patricia Beall of Arnold. "The team's camaraderie is great, because we work so well together. I'm not sure what I would like to do in the future, but it will probably have to do with some aspect of the law."

"I like the way mock trial challenges my mind," said Stone, who compares it to the physical challenges of running track and cross-country -- of which he was captain in the fall.

Stone had a summer job at the law firm of Cooch and Bowers in Arnold last year, and he considers a highlight of his duties going to the law library in Annapolis.

Students receive law and education advice from the attorney-coach and a teacher-coach.

"These students put in hours and hours and hours on their case," said Broadneck's teacher-coach, Cheryl Menke, head of the school's social studies department. "Maybe hundreds of hours, much on their own time. This is the best there is in an academic program. Students have to think on their feet and speak extemporaneously."

"Attorneys don't script-out actions," Hergenhan says. "Students learn for themselves. Coaches help members become the best team they can be by giving them knowledge to learn how to deal with trial. When a teacher asks a question, you may say, `Duh,' but when a judge asks you a question, you're forced to think."

Hergenhan receives compliments about the program from students, parents and teachers. By the end of the school year, "Parents will say, `This is not the kid I had in November.' We have great support from Principal Linda Blackman, the faculty and the parents -- the whole [Broadneck] Bruin family," Hergenhan said.

Old Mill High was the last state winner from Anne Arundel County, in 1986.

On May 19, the Broadneck team will be host to the champion from New York -- the state with the largest mock trial program in the nation -- in an interstate super bowl. Both teams will stay at the Radisson Hotel in Annapolis.

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