During one of A Team’s weekly meetings, members Sydney Gaskins and Ethan Hudson (center) offer advice to two of their teammates, who are portraying a witness and an attorney. Photo by Derek Frazer.
UMBC’s Mock Trial Team had cause for celebration during the weekend of Nov. 3, as they placed first overall in the 13th Annual Duke University Tobacco Road Invitational. Coached and overseen by Ben Garmoe, a 2013 UMBC alumni and an adjunct professor of political science, the team was proud of the accomplishment. “[We went] into one of the best mock trial tournaments [and created] an upset,” said the team’s president, Ethan Hudson.
Hudson, who is a junior studying political science, explained that Mock Trial recreates trials that typically go on in district courthouses, which are provided to intercollegiate teams by the American Mock Trial Association. Tournaments are typically held on the weekends and consist of two rounds each on Saturday and Sunday. Within each round, one school represents the defendant while the opposing school takes the case of the plaintiff.
Another important key to each trial that Hudson noted was the use of witnesses. Attorneys will “cross,” or essentially interview, the opposing teams’ witnesses in order to make them look less credible before the jury and judges, with the hope of ultimately winning the case.
UMBC Mock Trial consists of three teams: A, B and C, with A being the “top team and the team that traveled to Duke,” according to Garmoe. Currently, the A team consists of seven members, four of whom are freshmen and sophomores.
At the Duke tournament, while the A team members were hopeful about doing well, they were not sure whether they would take home any winning titles. Instead, they thought that this year would be an era of rebuilding the team, especially since several seniors who were vital to the team had recently graduated.
However, some of that optimism became realistic when UMBC won the first day against both University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and Washington and Lee University. “Leaving day one was pretty crazy because [we thought] ‘wait a second … we might have a shot at something,’” Hudson said.
On Sunday, UMBC won against the University of South Carolina and George Washington University; in the last round they won one ballot and lost the other, putting their final score at 7-1. Despite that one loss, to the shock and glory of the team, they snagged first place out of the 26 teams that attended Duke’s Invitational.
The rest of the members were ecstatic about their win as a team. Sam Dhawan*, a senior economics student who plays both an attorney and a witness for A Team, remembers feeling exhilarated about the win. “It was honestly surreal. Knowing that we can be at a tournament with schools like Columbia University that are funded way more than programs like us is an amazing feeling,” Dhawan said.
While the feeling of winning can be truly extraordinary, everyone on the team agrees there are other rewarding components to mock trial, such as sharpening judicial skills and creating solid friendships. Junior political science major Sydney Gaskins, who is an attorney for both the plaintiff and defense on A team, mentions that she “[gets] to compete at the highest level and constantly enhance my talents [as] an advocate. I get to spend time with … people that I have grown … close to [as] we travel across the country.”
Dhawan himself commented, “We travel so often and get so close to one another that it brings you the family vibe.” Hudson agreed, adding that “it’s also invaluable law school experience … if you have any interest in being a lawyer or going to law school, you need to be here. You make so many connections with important people in the legal field.”
Coach Garmoe is happy overall that the win can serve as “motivation for our whole program moving forward.” As long as the UMBC Mock Trial team keeps on practicing, he has no doubt that they can make it to the finals. “To see them put it all together and dominate a field of great teams like they did made me very proud and very excited for them,” he said.
There is no doubt that the incredible win at Duke will not be forgotten any time soon. In fact, Dhawan marveled at how others now know what UMBC stands for within the mock trial community. “The moment they announced that the winner of the tournament [was] the UMBC Retrievers, I saw a girl from another team say, ‘I’ve never heard of them before,'” Dhawan said. “I turned around and thought, ‘well, you have now.’”