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Springfield High School mock debate team scores big in national competition

this picture shows the Springfield High School Mock Trial team's 9th place finish at National Competition.
Springfield High School
Springfield High School mock trial team's places 9th at national competition.

Students from Springfield High School came in ninth place in the National High School Mock Trial Competition. It was the best placement ever for the school’s mock trial team.

Close to 300 students participated in the competition and senior Melissa McMahon was selected as a top 10 Outstanding Student Attorney.

She spoke with WYSO’s Jerry Kenney about the team’s success and how they prepared for it.

This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Melissa McMahon: My team for national, specifically, was Hannah Mattison, Joel Blum, Ben Oehlers, Caroline Yontz, Aria Mills, and Emerson Babian.

So there were 48 teams there, and we placed ninth out of those 48 teams. Then within that, my teammate did the math, there were about 288 attorneys, and I got one of the top attorneys awards in like the top ten with that.

We were just very happy, because we didn't know what to go in expecting with nationals. And my coach just wanted us to get in the top ten, and I think the rest of my teammates had the same aspirations and we did it. So I'm really, really proud of my team.

Jerry Kenney: Was this the team's first time to nationals?

McMahon: It was. Yes. It was our school's first time winning state and our first time to nationals.

We had three freshmen that we brought up for our team. So one of them had never even done a round of mock trial because she had been our timekeeper in the previous season. So she had never even done a round until nationals.

This picture shows Senior Melissa McMahon who was selected as a top 10 Outstanding Student Attorney in the National Mock Trial Competition.
Springfield High School
Senior Melissa McMahon was selected as a top 10 Outstanding Student Attorney in the National Mock Trial Competition.

Kenney: Wow. So do students serve different functions? Is everybody an attorney?

McMahon: tThe way that it works is that for nationals, we had three attorneys on each side, and then we had three witnesses on each side.

So two of those attorneys had to give speeches. And then all of the attorneys did a direct and a cross. And then two of those attorneys give speeches on the openings and closings and then, so I was a witness on the other side of the case on the prosecution side. And then I was a defense attorney, so I directed, I crossed, and then I gave the closing argument for my side, and then for the opposite side, I played a 78-year-old lady named Geraldine Butler.

Kenney: And so what is the prep like for a witness? You do make up characters then, or for trade, people other than yourselves.

McMahon: So for this case, we had an interesting case. It was about a phone call. It was about a celebrity named Aubrey Plaza. And she's an actual celebrity in Delaware and she allowed them to use her name for the case.

She had all of these different companies, and she had phone cases that she had made out of mushrooms, and it was in contention whether or not those mushrooms were causing people harm, or whether or not they were Covid symptoms.

I played a 78-year-old teacher who used Aubrey Plaza's teacher in high school, and for the prep for that, I had to really try to get into the character of it. Her actual name is Jerri Butler, but just to give it more character. I made her name Geraldine Butler so that I could connect to it more.

"We always try our best within all of our rounds to have fun, regardless of what the outcome is. As long as we're proud of ourselves and our teammates, I think that's the common goal."

We spend time really reviewing our witness statement so that we know what we're going to say, and so that we don't say anything wrong that goes off of our witness statements for that.

The prep for that is definitely different for an attorney because an attorney, I would say that there's more things that could happen that you're not aware of, such as the objections and things like that. And then if something happens to your witness, you have to be able to adapt to that too.

Kenney: This all sounds like a lot of fun, but are there moments of intensity that come out of these mock trials?

McMahon: Absolutely, because the more that you do mock trial, you start to actually believe the things that you're arguing for.

When you're in a round and — I have a problem with this — I'll make a facial expression, if I don't agree with something that opposing counsel is saying because.... so I have to because I'm so into the role in what I'm doing.

There's definitely moments of intensity, because at the end of the day, you're both trying to get the same goal, which is to win.

But something that our coach tells us, Ms. Osborn, that her son always told her is that the team that looks like they're having the most fun is the team that wins.

We always try our best within all of our rounds to have fun, regardless of what the outcome is. As long as we're proud of ourselves and our teammates, I think that's the common goal.

Kenney: You say you joined, your freshman year?

McMahon: Yes.

Kenney: How has it helped you in the couple of years that you've been doing this?

McMahon: In the four years that I've done it, it's helped me in terms of just public speaking, because I'm really trying to focus on not talking fast right now, because that's something that I've always done my whole life and something that my coaches, Ms. Osborn and Ms. Farley will tell us is that you can never talk too slow in mock trial.
So it's helped me with my public speaking.

It's helped me to be more confident in my speaking in general, and it's helped me to be able to formulate an argument where everything isn't based on subjectivity but you have to have evidence and reasoning behind what you're saying.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.