Menlo News May 12, 2023

Mock Trial Team Competes for National Championship in Little Rock

Menlo students head to Arkansas after winning San Mateo County for the 13th year in a row!

After winning five hard-fought rounds at the State Finals in Los Angeles, Menlo’s Mock Trial team is headed to the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Little Rock, Arkansas. Menlo’s team has now won the San Mateo County championship 13 times in a row. After triumphing at the state level—beating out winning teams from 36 counties—Menlo has been invited by the Arkansas Mock Trial Foundation for a shot at the national title. Menlo’s team has been hard at work, prepping for the case (State of Arkansas v. Scout Cumberland), and hopes to best Menlo’s fourth place finish back in 2014.

“Menlo’s Mock Trial team is perpetually quite good,” said faculty advisor Jay Bush. “We’ve won the county 15 of the last 16 years, so the expectations can be pretty high every year. But we always have a great group of talented students, because our junior varsity team is also strong. It’s a tight-knit bunch, they work really hard, and we did well last year—finishing fifth at the state championship. We knew this team had a lot of potential and could go really, really far, but the question always is: Will they work together well? It took a lot of hard work, but they practice almost as much as the sports teams. The best part is how they always push each other and we get to see them get better and better at the process throughout the season. They’ve worked incredibly hard to get to this point and have represented Menlo with poise and grace. They’re just so impressive to watch.”

For some perspective, Menlo is one of only a handful of mock trial teams in California to have a current county win streak of over five years, they have reached the State Podium in 10 of the last 12 years, won the State Championship three times, and are the seven-time defending NorCal Champions with the most titles of any team.

“One of the greatest skills students learn from mock trials is how to be adaptable,” added faculty advisor Nick Merlesena. “They are often confronted with something entirely unexpected and have to make quick, informed decisions on the fly. That’s a powerful skill to have and I think it’s an important one. Also, just having the overall knowledge and awareness of civility and making sure that you’re a good human being—that’s something we teach throughout the year. We want to make sure that we’re not just good at mock trial, but also good people.”

Normally, the Mock Trial team will get a case months in advance so they can begin preparing for their court presentation. For the national championship, Menlo students have just six weeks from the case reveal to trial—the most condensed amount of time to prepare for any competition thus far. For the students, this might add some extra pressure, but they are ready and they have a plan.

“It’s a crazy timeline, but we’re super excited about this case,” said Penelope ’24, who has been recognized with multiple Outstanding Attorney honors at state competitions. “What we’re focusing on right now is just gathering the knowledge from this giant case packet. We always start by knowing it—the facts, the witness statements, everything. Once we know every detail, we get to work on the smaller things. What’s going to make us stand out from the other teams is how well we know it. If you pick up a detail another team missed, that will give you the edge and get us across the finish line.”

“Penelope and I work together a lot,” added Zach ’24, whose interest in drama and character development inspired him to try out for the team. “She is the attorney and I am almost always the witness. It is so fun to play a character that we’ve built together, but we’ve also had to write characters really quickly before the state rounds. We went through at least nine different versions once. So, there is a lot of trial and error and making small changes along the way. It can get chaotic, but it’s worth it because it’s so much fun—especially when we win!”

The National High School Mock Trial Competition will take place in Little Rock, Arkansas, May 18-20. Go Knights!