WLHS team to represent Oregon at national competition May 9

A team from West Linn High School will represent Oregon at the National Mock Trial Competition in Madison, Wis., in May. The WLHS Green team took first place among 18 total teams at the state competition March 21, finishing ahead of two teams from West Salem High School and one from Lincoln High School.

Composed mostly of juniors from WLHS, the Green team trained and practiced throughout the year with the school’s Gold, or senior, team. The Gold team also competed at the state tournament but did not place.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: ANDIE PETRUS PHOTOGRAPHY  - West Linn High Schools mock trial Green team took first place in the recent state competition and will head to nationals next month. From left, team members Claire Baumgardner, Lucas Evans, Kira Duff, Kevin Layoun, Elizabeth Torralba, Emily Rissberger, Rachel Dawson and Rochelle Biancardi.At the high school, students interested in participating in mock trial team by taking honors law from teacher and team adviser Matt Kellogg. Each year, Kellogg picks eight new students from the class to form the Green team. Renee Layoun, a senior this year and a member of the Gold team, was the first sophomore to join the Green team.

“I just gave it a shot. I went into it not knowing what to expect or wanting to be an attorney as a career,” Layoun said. “I just fell in love with it.”

Being on the mock trial team requires a big commitment — and also delivers big benefits. Over the summer, the Gold team started preparing to compete in an international competition in New York, which was held last fall. The local competition season began when the teams received information about their court case in November.

At first, team members meet a couple of times each week in addition to their classes with Kellogg. As the competitions draw near, they meet as many as four nights a week.

“Mock trial becomes your life. Everyone sees how hardworking and dedicated we are,” Layoun said one night about a week before the competition. It was 8:30 on a school night, and she and the other members of the Gold team had been at the school all day.

“We actually decided to stay here after school,” Layoun said. Her younger brother, Kevin, a member of the Green team, had returned to school in time for the scheduled practice, bringing a sandwich for his sister’s dinner.

“Our mock trial skills, like public speaking, really reflect in our other classes,” Layoun said. “I’ve definitely learned how to time manage and prioritize. It’s definitely helped me become a better student. The public speaking skills you develop will apply to any job. It’s really helpful for any career.”

The high school mock trial competition is sponsored by Classroom Law Project and involves more than 70 teams across the state. Each team receives information about a hypothetical court case, which is based in part on one or more actual court cases.

This year’s challenge, Perez v. Rubicon Soccer Club, involved a young girl, Tabitha Pitzer, who received a concussion during a soccer game and can no longer play. Students play the roles of witnesses and attorneys as they argue the case before attorneys and teachers who play the role of judge. Each team prepares to argue both sides of the case, planning their strategy, preparing questions and practicing their phrasing, timing, pace and intensity.

It’s a complicated game, and outsiders sometimes don’t understand it at first.

“Once you explain it, they love it,” Layoun said. “It’s like real life ‘Law & Order.’”

Even better than the excitement of participating in an interesting court case is the skills the students gain, according to Layoun’s mother, Toni.

“It teaches them public speaking and self-confidence and to think on their feet in a situation and be able to come up with a quick response,” she said. “They have to listen and modify their presentations while they’re in the middle of it.”

For West Linn’s Green team, the opportunities to grow will continue. As they prepare for the national competition, the team will receive a new court case to prepare. Renee Layoun will prepare to accompany her younger teammates to the competition, serving as the team’s clerk, bailiff and mentor.

In addition to preparing for the competition, the team is working to raise funds to pay for the trip to Wisconsin. Classroom Law Project is paying the team’s $500 entry fee. The team estimates the trip will cost a total of $15,000. Donations may be sent to the mock trial team, in care of the high school, at 5464 West A St., West Linn.

“We can use all the help we can get,” Toni Layoun said.

Learn more about the mock trial competition online:

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
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