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Mock trial team looks to build on recent success

May 16, 2024


Poland mock trial team stands with a judge in the courtroom.


The Poland mock trial team is looking to build on its recent success.


The 2023-24 team, which was Poland’s first to compete in four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, won a regional competition that took place in April at the federal courthouse in Utica.


Poland’s team featured seven students: Ellie Beck, Trinity Barnello, Leia Christian, Izzy Horan, Jack Hoffman and Julia Oczkowski. 


With a year of competition now under its belt, the team will look to not only improve their skills but to see the program thrive overall.


“We want to see the program grow. I think if we expand and get more people involved and increase the popularity of the club, it will be good,” said junior Julia Oczkowski.


“We had a pretty good start. We want to go to states next year,” said sophomore Jack Hoffman.


The extra-curricular activity can help students prepare for the future.


“It’s a good kick start into civic engagement,” said Hoffman.


In the regional competition, teams from Herkimer and Oneida Counties competed over a case, with either a defense or prosecution argument. The competition’s mock trial was an arson case consisting mainly of circumstantial evidence. The judge decided the case based upon two factors: decision as to whether guilty or not guilty and case presentation.


Each student played a double part each week, a lawyer or a witness, depending on whether they were prosecution or defense.


“They were ready and up for the challenge,” said advisor Karen Oczkowski, who helped the mock trial team originally be established as a competition team in Poland almost 29 years ago with PCS social studies teacher Doug Chapman.


With the win, Poland earned the right to compete in further regional competition in the western part of the state needed for State Finals at the end of May. However, due to the competition being the same day as Poland’s prom, the team chose not to compete.


The good news is that Poland’s season has been presented with an opportunity for one more competition that works with students’ busy schedules. Poland is hosting St. Lawrence High School in a scrimmage competition on May 16.


The scrimmage will give Poland more experience and St. Lawrence an opportunity to prepare for the State Final. The Poland team will be the defense and St. Lawrence will be the prosecution.


Throughout the session, the students have kept a positive outlook.


“Even if we lost or tied, we got together as a team and talked about making the next one better,” Julia Oczkowski said.


She also said there was an important message that kept the team focused: “Never give up. We are all working as a team. Even though we were a smaller team, we took the whole competition,” she said, referring to the regional competition.


Students are looking forward to what is next for the team, saying they hope to see more students join next school year.


“Don’t be afraid to try something new. Mock trial is a very unique club. It combines the competitiveness of sports and academic engagement,” Hoffman said.


The New York State High School Mock Trial Program is a joint venture of The New York Bar Foundation, the New York State Bar Association, and the Law, Youth and Citizenship Program. In this educational program, high school students gain first-hand knowledge of civil/criminal law and courtroom procedures.


Objectives of the tournament are to: Teach students ethics, civility, and professionalism; further students’ understanding of the law, court procedures and the legal system; improve proficiency in basic life skills, such as listening, speaking, reading and reasoning; promote better communication and cooperation among the school community, teachers and students and members of the legal profession, and heighten appreciation for academic studies and stimulate interest in law-related careers.