In the role of defense attorney, Leah March begins to interrogate her witness. It starts off establishing the basic facts. He says he’s a 42-year-old ranch hand. He lives in Picabo, Idaho. Yes, he knows the plaintiff. He’s actually a high school junior named Eric Wilford and the Basque accent he’s using isn’t real.
March is a senior at the Ambrose School. It’s a private Christian school in Meridian and this year’s state mock trial champions. March questions Wilford during a lunch-hour practice session earlier this week. Their team will represent Idaho at the National High School Mock Trial Championship. This year that tournament is in Boise.
That’s why hundreds of high school students are gathering in downtown Boise this week. They’re coming from all over the country, as well as some Pacific islands and South Korea. This is the first time Idaho has hosted this national tournament. Teams arrive in Boise Wednesday but most of the action will be Saturday at the Ada County Courthouse.
Tournament host the Idaho Law Foundation has created a very “Idaho” case that teams will use in competition. It’s a fictitious lawsuit between a cattle rancher and a sheep rancher.
Watching a mock trial is like watching a courtroom drama where all the roles are played by teenagers, except the judge and jury. They’re actual judges and lawyers. And that, March says, has given her skills she thinks will serve her well in college and career.
“I have no apprehensions about speaking in front of adults or speaking in front of people at all in a professional, collected way,” March says.
Though she’s spent much of her high school career pretending to be a lawyer, March has no intention of becoming a real one someday. Though, she does want a career that involves public speaking in some way. She’s one of those rare people who like it. So is teammate and fellow senior Reagan Good.
“A lot [about] public speaking, that I enjoy at least is the sway that you can have over a group of people simply by standing there and speaking to them,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than being ill-prepared and having those eyes on you but there’s nothing better than being well-prepared and having those eyes on you and knowing that you have the control of the entire room.”
March and Good both say they’re not disappointed that this year’s competition is in Boise so they don’t get to travel like the other teams. They got to go to nationals in Wisconsin their sophomore year.
For several years now the state champ has either been Ambrose or another private Christian school, the Logos School in Moscow. Logos has done better at nationals than any other Idaho team, making it to fifth place in 2012. Some of the big public schools like Centennial and Capital do well but they haven’t been able to beat these two private schools.
Ambrose coach David Goodwin thinks it has something to do with their education model. Both use the classical model which emphasizes rhetoric. And it doesn’t hurt Goodwin says, that his school has phased out debate to focus on mock trail.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
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