Mock Trial: Legends

For the eighth time in school history, the Timothy Christian Mock Trial team won the Illinois State Championship and qualified for Nationals. At the 2022 State Competition, the Timothy Christian Mock Trial team fought past much larger schools, Addison Trail and Niles North, in the regular rounds. Then they defeated Naperville North in the final round, which featured the top eight teams in the state.

Part theater, part law, Mock Trial competitions pit two teams head-to-head as the plaintiff and defense in a simulated court case, where the students act as the lawyers and witnesses. They perform in full court dress and are judged by actual judges and lawyers. The team spends several months preparing strategies to win each side of the case. The student witnesses are each given affidavits, which they must learn. The student lawyers write and memorize all their own direct examinations, cross-examinations, and opening and closing statements, all while properly applying federal rules of evidence.

The preparation starts in the fall when the court case is released. This year’s state case involved a lawsuit against a summer camp: a nighttime hike ended with a horrific fall that resulted in a camper becoming a quadriplegic. To provide the team with expert and technical leadership, coach Scott Roelofs brought on attorney Cathy McNeil Stein, the Chief of the Civil Actions Bureau of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, as a coach 19 years ago. Her expertise has proved invaluable and key to the team’s success. Mr. Roelofs says, “Cathy is an excellent lawyer, is passionate about Mock Trial, and she loves our kids and they love her back.”

Once in court, or rather a Mock Trial competition, students must be quick with responses, have composure, and demonstrate excellent oratorical skills. While the direct examination between Timothy’s lawyer and witness is scripted, the cross-examination is not. “You never know what the other team will do,” veteran coach Roelofs says. “You have to be able to think on your feet under a lot of pressure.” In both direct and cross-examinations you have to be able to object or respond to the other team’s objections. Every part of the trial — opening statement, direct examinations, cross-examinations, closing arguments, witness performances — is given a score.

“I don’t need trophies — I have lots of trophies. Because of the very subjective nature of Mock Trial judging, you can’t get too caught up in scoring. What I am concerned with, however, is that we represent our school and our faith in a God-honoring way. That’s what will be remembered — not the trophies.”

Throughout the season, the 2022 State Champion Mock Trial team proved to be a formidable opponent. They placed second at the North Suburban Bar Association Tournament, third at the Northwest Suburban Bar Association Tournament, and won the South Elgin Tournament.

But it was at the State Tournament where they really outdid themselves. According to Mr. Roelofs, the team won by a large margin. The starting lineup consisted of senior attorney Leah Tornow, senior attorney Jonathan Pae, senior attorney/witness Kaitlyn Radoha, senior witness Katelyn Butt, senior attorney David Sianghio, and junior witness Ian Sianghio. Junior Roslyn Steiner was the timekeeper and senior Paige Detzler, sophomores Payton Frens, Daniella Ebeid, Jaida Lester, Aiden Hoogstra, and freshman Matthew Gritters rounded out the squad.

For the first time in Timothy Mock Trial history, two brothers were recognized as All-State. Junior Ian Sianghio won an Outstanding Witness award and senior David Sianghio won an Outstanding Attorney award. It’s worth noting that the Sianghio brothers followed in the footsteps of older brother John, who was a three time State Champion in 2002-2004.

Winning a State Championship — and chasing the accolades of Mock Trial legends — is part of the lifeblood of the team. In fact, the history of Mock Trial goes back over 35 years, when Mr. Roelofs started the team. Now with 8 State Championships under his belt, and 8 National appearances (they placed 4th in the nation in 1998, 6th in 2004, and 3rd in 2006), it’s fair to say he’s entered legendary coaching status.

And there’s a good reason for that. Not only is Mr. Roelofs the Mock Trial coach, but he is also one of the longest-serving faculty members and currently teaches economics, government, and Western civilization. His classes are particularly loved by students because of his frequent and vivid storytelling. His enthusiasm to develop life-long learners, who fully live out their purpose in the world for Christ is evident in his classes and the way he coaches the Mock Trial team. He has helped countless students develop and hone skills such as critical thinking, persuasive speaking, and presenting oneself with confidence.

But if you watch Mr. Roelofs — he has a calm demeanor and a knack for leading highly competitive teams — his most pressing concern is not a State title or even a National one. He first and foremost wants students to be representatives of Christ. He prays with his students before and after each competition.

“I don’t need trophies — I have lots of trophies,” Mr. Roelofs says. “Because of the very subjective nature of Mock Trial judging, you can’t get too caught up in scoring. What I am concerned with, however, is that we represent our school and our faith in a God-honoring way. That’s what will be remembered — not the trophies. Also I want us to be a team, not a group of individuals. I like to quote the movie Miracle: ‘It’s the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.’ Some of our kids will become lawyers, but most will not. Hopefully they are learning skills and lessons they can use, no matter what they do in life.”

If it seems countercultural, that’s because it is. In a win-at-all-costs society (particularly in the land of the law), Mr. Roelofs has taught and, more importantly, modeled how to compete with integrity.

By virtue of winning the State Championship, the Trojans won the honor of representing Illinois at the National Championship. This year’s tournament was hosted by Kalamazoo, Michigan, but had to be held virtually because of the ongoing pandemic. Forty-five states sent their state champions and there was even a representative team from South Korea.

The National Competition has an entirely different case, which meant the Mock Trial team had little more than a month to learn all new affidavits, write cross-examinations, and prepare for trial.

Nationals’ cases are much longer and more complicated than state tournament cases.  A nationals tournament trial takes 2½ hours, compared to the hour-long state trials. This year’s case involved a car manufacturer being sued because one of its self-driving vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian.

Timothy started the tournament by playing Florida and narrowly losing by a score of 270-269. They followed that with a win over Colorado 263-255. The Trojans lost to the 2021 National Champion Maryland in the third round by a score of 257-251. The tournament ended with Timothy defeating Massachusetts 269-254.

As they were waiting for the final results, Mr. Roelofs asked the seniors, “What place are you hoping for?” Every senior responded: “Top twenty in the nation.” They got their wish. Out of the more than 10,000 high school Mock Trial teams in the country, the Trojans were awarded 20th place in the nation.

While impressive, competing at nationals has never been the most important goal. The most important goal—and the only one that truly lasts—is competing with integrity and doing everything for the glory
of God.

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