So far this fall, the Furman mock trial team has participated in tournaments in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Greensboro, and Philadelphia.
And later this month, the team will travel to California and Duke University. The extensive travel and countless hours of participation pay off for Furman Mock Trial, an extraordinarily popular program.
With 18 straight bids to the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship Tournament, Furman Mock Trial has become a force in national circles. In 15 of those appearances, the team has finished the season in the top 10 of its division. Despite not winning the title, Furman posted the best overall record at nationals during the 2000-2009 decade; and on more than one occasion two Furman teams have landed in the top 10.
In the driver’s seat from the beginning, mock trial director Dr. Glen Halva-Neubauer recalls early moments in the program’s history. Former Political Science Chair and now Riley Institute Executive Director Don Gordon, and Greenville County Solicitor-turned-Circuit Court Judge Joe Watson were instrumental in nudging the program forward during the embryonic years, along with strong support from Dean John H. Crabtree, Jr.
“We started this in 1995—I had no idea what I was doing,” says Dr. Halva-Neubauer. But it didn’t take long for the bug to incubate. “And once you get the mock trial bug, it’s hard to shake,” he says.
Mere rookies, Halva-Neubauer’s mockers somehow snagged a pretty successful season from the get go. “The first watershed moment for us was 1996 in St. Paul (Minn.). We’re there, we’re upstarts, and we end up in contention for the championship until the last round.” The professor keeps a handful of trophies in his small office. He proudly reaches for the trophy that marks the team’s seventh place finish that inaugural year.
Currently ranked 11th in the country, Furman continues to build its reputation at elite invitational tournaments while earning high marks for hosting the Ney National, a regional ATMA tournament.
The season begins with the announcement of the criminal or civil case file in August. Then, after weeks of preparation, schools participate in invitational tournaments in the fall and early spring to ready themselves for 25 regional AMTA-sanctioned tournaments that take place in February.
In 2014, AMTA included more than 550 mock trial teams from approximately 350 universities and colleges spanning the country. The top teams from each regional tournament advance and compete in the super regionals or Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) held in March. One hundred and ninety two teams battle it out in the ORCS round, then the top six teams from each ORCS tournament advance to AMTA’s National Championship Tournament in April. Only 48 teams advance and compete in the National Championship Tournament. These 48 teams are divided into two divisions of 24 teams each. The first-place teams from each face off in AMTA’s National Championship Final Round.
So what does it take to have a booming mock trial program? Dr. Halva-Neubauer says it starts with a crop of bright, articulate, and competitive kids who have superb time management skills and a desire to work with each other in a team environment.
But he also says students don’t have to fit a particular academic mold to be a part of the team. He reels off majors outside the usual pre-law/political science suspects—math, history, modern languages, religion, and economics.
“What’s great is that our student profile has expanded to include more majors. I love that. It gives us more support around the university, more exposure to faculty . . . mock trial students don’t just go to law school . . . it’s an activity for all comers,” he says.
The reality that Furman mock trial draws students from all backgrounds and majors is important for team building. “It’s an activity that brings a diverse set of people together who would not know each other absent this,” says Halva-Neubauer.
With all the hours that funnel into mock trial preparation and the weekend-long tournaments, students come away with a stockpile of life skills. Says mock trial coach and Furman alum Brad Rustin ’03, attorney at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, “The biggest change I see in students over time is their level of judgment and maturity. Mock trial teaches you how to compete while remaining civil and respectful of others.”
Coach Lindsay Builder ’07, also of Nelson Mullins, has witnessed “astronomical” growth in students in his four years of coaching. Andrew Mueller ’14 started out as a witness in his first two years and transitioned to the program’s top male attorney. Builder says Mueller really took to what the coaches term “Mock Trial 2.0,” where they teach students to move beyond the practice of rote memory.
Builder says he unfortunately sees a fair amount of “scripted robots” in mock court settings where trials are little more than “orchestrated ballets” with each word memorized and every step choreographed. “We want our kids to think and act like lawyers—reacting, analyzing the situation, determining on their feet what’s their next move.” Builder says Mueller was particularly good at that, but he was by no means an isolated case. “I could talk about several kids just like him.”
Kaitlyn Pugh ’17 (Edgefield, S.C.) says, “Not knowing what the other teams are going to do is unnerving at times, but nothing beats the rush you get when you stand up to give a statement or question a witness. Or, if you’re the witness, being on the stand gives you a chance to control the trial.”
Jordan Brown ’16 (Gastonia, N.C.) knows what it’s like to think on his feet. Brown, who plans to go to math grad school and teach at the secondary level, says, “Teams can be kind of cutthroat out there and will try to throw you off your game.” He says improvisation and the ability to recover become important skills.
Brown remembers a round against the University of Virginia at a west coast tournament last season where the prosecution’s pithy direct examination of a witness left Brown with virtually no cross. “So I say to myself, ‘did they really just do that?’ I stand up, and don’t remember what I ask the witness, but it has no resemblance to what I expected to say.” Brown says “wing-it” moments like that happen often, and tackling them with 100 percent confidence is part of the game.
Rustin says, “I tell students to have fun, show off, and go 100 miles per hour in the court room.” Sometimes that strategy can get teams into trouble, but it’s good for scoring points with the judges.
Rustin describes a round in a Washington, D.C., court house in which Kiersty DeGroote ’14 (Lyman, S.C.), during an entire cross examination of a witness, teetered on chair in her heels and business suit to demonstrate what a witness saw while standing on a stall toilet, peering over the wall. From that point forward, her performance was dubbed the “chair cross,” and Rustin says the “judges ate it up.” And the infamous “chair cross” became code for pulling out all the stops in the court room.
The moxie it takes to pull stunts like that, take risks and be vulnerable comes with practice “Mock trial is a jealous, time-sucking activity,” says Halva-Neubauer. So in the 10 or more hours a week students and coaches spend studying the case file, preparing opening statements and closing arguments, setting up demonstratives, poring over rules of evidence, and prepping witnesses, there’s no time for petty differences, but lots of time for fostering trust and relationships.
A spirit of mutual respect among coaches and team members allows a safe place to air criticisms. “Mock trial teaches you how to give and receive constructive criticism,” says Builder. “That’s how our teams work.”
The lights flashed, the music played, and they danced. Wearing tutus, leis, pearls and polka-dot socks, Furman students enjoyed everything from swing dancing to Zumba lessons during Saturday’s dance marathon hosted by Heller Service Corps.
The second annual dance marathon raised more than $7,750 for the Greenville Health System Children’s Hospital, and donations are continuing to come in, said Nancy Cooper, Furman’s coordinator for volunteer services. The 12-hour event, held from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. in the Trone Student Center was organized and directed by biology major Jonathan Vandenberg ’17 of Glen Mills, Pa.
“It’s an important project for Furman and Heller because one, it is a great cause,” said Vandenberg. “Two, it helps the University and Heller connect with the Greenville community which is always great.”
A total of 125 students participated in the event, which included visits from several families who had benefited from the community’s generosity. One of the biggest celebrities at the event was 7-year-old Adri Patterson, the daughter of Furman alumnus Josh Patterson ’02.
“I would just like to thank you for sharing so many toys and crafts with me at the hospital, because without you, the hospital couldn’t afford to have so many fun things,” Adri told the crowd. “I love playing with the cool toys at the hospital every time I go for my check up!”
Adri first had surgery for a brain tumor in January 2010 and has a small tumor that has not changed or grown in nearly five years, Josh Patterson said.
“My wife, Natalie, and I were blown away by the support and care we received from the Children’s Hospital during our stay… After Adri was well and we started interacting with other families in the world of pediatric brain tumors, we learned that the special care we received and the fun things Adri had access to weren’t the norm at every hospital,” said Josh Patterson. “We are passionate about raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network because we understand firsthand how that money blesses families with sick children. It was a great privilege to be back at my alma mater with my healthy daughter and the rest of my family to share those experiences.”
Furman University was well represented at the 16th Annual InnoVision Awards Celebration that took place Nov. 11 at the TD Convention Center.
Furman received two of the 10 awards presented to organizations, businesses and individuals that were recognized for advancing technology in South Carolina, while a third award went to ActivEd, an educational initiative founded by Furman health sciences professor Dr. Julian Reed.
The InnoVision Awards Program, established by Deloitte in 1999, is presented by the McNair Law Firm.
Furman received InnoVision’s Community Service Award for its collaborative project with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department and other departments within the university. The team employed the use of drones to study the correlation between streetlight illumination and crime in the New Washington and Poe Mills neighborhoods of Greenville.
The community outreach project is one of many that Furman students and faculty are undertaking to revitalize Poinsett Highway, the corridor that connects the university to downtown Greenville. More information about the university’s drone project may be found here.
Furman also received the Hall of Fame Award, “an accomplishment that is hard-earned and rarely awarded by the judges,” according to an InnoVision spokesperson. The award recognizes Furman’s continued contributions to excellence in innovation and education. It was the third time Furman had received the award in the 16-year history of the InnoVision program.
ActivEd received the Innovation in Education Award for developing accessible products and programs to foster learning and promote healthy lifestyles through movement and physical activity in schools. Furman health sciences professor Reed is among the nation’s leading researchers exploring the relationship between issues such as obesity, cognition and academic achievement. His current study at Charter Legacy School in Greenville shows that active students are displaying marked improvement in cognitive measures. For more about Dr. Reed’s work, visit this link.
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