Training Up Leaders: Beyond the Classroom with Scott Roelofs
Michael VanDerAa

As the Timothy Christian Mock Trial coach, Mr. Roelofs has trained generations of students to be disciplined and successful competitors — and ambassadors for Christ.

What makes a winning team?

Some might say dedication, talent, or drive. Others might even say cut-throat competition is the key to victory. But the Timothy Christian Mock Trial team would say their coach, Mr. Scott Roelofs, is the reason for their unprecedented success.

Mr. Roelofs is one of the longest-serving faculty members at Timothy and currently teaches economics, government, and western civilization, classes that are particularly loved by students because of Mr. Roelofs’s frequent and vivid storytelling. 

But in the evenings of most Mondays and Wednesdays, and on even more Saturday mornings, if you walked past his room, you would find Mr. Roelofs at his desk, telling stories to a group of notably loud high schoolers all together known as the Timothy Christian Mock Trial Team. 

Mock Trial is one of Timothy’s most well-regarded and vigorous after-school activities. 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 courthouses, in full court dress, and are judged by real judges and lawyers. 

But putting the competition in such simple terms, belies the level of skill and work required of students in order to do even mildly well. Good teams, like Timothy’s, start prepping in September for the competition season that begins in late January. Students have to write and memorize all their own cross-examinations, direct examinations, and opening and closing statements, all while properly applying federal rules of evidence. Last year, Timothy’s team memorized over 80 pages of material. In court, students must be quick with responses, understand when and how to object to the other side, have composure, and demonstrate excellent oratorical skills.

Mock Trial requires more skill and work than most people assume high school students are capable of, but Mr. Roelofs has been able to motivate thirty-six years’ worth of high school students to do all of the above.

And he’s been able to motivate them to do it exceptionally well. 

In fact, there is no other team at Timothy that has won as many tournaments and state titles. The Timothy Christian Mock Trial team has fought past much larger schools like Hinsdale Central, St. Charles North, and York to win the state-wide competition seven times. At the National Competition, they have placed 6th (2004), 4th (1998), and 3rd (2006) out of more than fifty teams. 

How did Mr. Roelofs get them there?

If you talk to former Mock Trial-ers, they’ll say it had something to do with Mr. Roelofs himself. Something to do with his dedication, generosity, levity, moral leadership, and genuine consideration for others.

He’s too humble to say it, but his former students are more than eager to sing his praises. 

“I cannot emphasize enough how much I look back with awe at how dedicated Mr. Roelofs was in coaching Mock Trial,” class of 2007 alum and three-time National Mock Trial competitor Peter Hegel said. “It was not by sheer luck that we were so successful. Hard work, determination, and copious amounts of practice in the school library ensured that we were constantly competitive.”

The most significant contribution Mr. Roelofs has made in the lives of his Mock Trial students is how to simply be a Christian.

Mr. Roelofs practices with his team after school and on the weekends. Recently, Mr. Roelofs has given up his well-earned fall break to take the team to the Harvard Mock Trial Seminar at Harvard University, where they got an edge on the competition by learning from one of the best college teams in the country.

He has brought on incredibly talented local attorneys to help bring the team to even greater heights, like the current assistant coach, Cathy McNeil-Stein, the Chief of the Civil Actions Bureau of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. 

And although those attorneys provide the team with expert and technical leadership, Mr. Roelofs gives the team something that, winning or losing, has always set them apart from the competition. Peter Hegel’s former teammate, Aaron Michnowski, who competed three times in the National Mock Trial Competition, puts it best: “There is a reason the name Scott Roelofs loomed formidably in the minds of our Mock Trial rivals, and it wasn’t just the strength of his competitive leadership, but his moral leadership as well.” Michnowski cites how Mr. Roelofs guided the team to perform their best at competitions, not only as lawyers, but as representatives of Christ: no dirty tricks, no bad-mouthing other teams behind their backs, and always opening with prayer before competitions. 

“Mr. Roelofs was a competitor and was respected by other Mock Trial coaches,” says Joel Baise, who was a senior on the Mock Trial team when Timothy first went to the National Competition in 1998. “Everyone worked hard to achieve the high standards he set for the team.”

The truth is, Mock Trial is a lot of work and a lot of play. Thanks to Mr. Roelofs, the Timothy team has always had a host of bizarre traditions, inside jokes, and embarrassing stories that keep everyone from taking themselves too seriously. Mr. Roelofs keeps it that way on purpose. 

Angela Ordway, a Mock Trial legend and Baise’s 1998 Nationals co-counsel, puts it diplomatically, “Mr. Roelofs knew how to build winning teams that had fun together.” She remembers times when he and his wife, Sandy Roelofs, would even host the team at their house before big competitions.

What’s the point of all that fun, though? Peter Hegel can explain: “Mr. Roelofs has that rare ability in a coach to guide and encourage without forcing or stifling. Being able to enjoy the long practices and our tournament schedule allowed me to learn substantive skills that I still use today —  all while hardly realizing I was learning at all! High school Mock Trial memories are really some of the happiest high school memories I have.”

Hegel, like Baise, Ordway, and many others who have been on the Timothy Mock Trial team, have gone on to use those substantive skills as practicing attorneys.

“Drafting arguments, internalizing evidentiary rules and procedure, practicing the art of public speaking, learning how to conduct oneself with poise and decorum in a formal setting, and coordinating work product as a team were skills that we would regularly practice in either after-school practices or on Saturday mornings,” says Hegel, “learning these critical skills as a high school kid was invaluable to say the least.” He even went on to say that because of all the drilling the Timothy team had done on the rules of evidence, he never took an Evidence course in law school and “only gave it a cursory review” before he took the bar exam. 

Ordway and Baise also testify that Mock Trial with Mr. Roelofs was a major reason they became attorneys. “It prepared me better for that role than any law school course,” Ordway says. 

Although many Timothy Mock Trial alumni go on to become attorneys (and often, pastors), there are many who don’t — like Michnowski, who works in the film industry in California. Still, Michnowski says, “The skills Coach Roelofs instilled in us have continued to be invaluable to me long after my time at Timothy: critical thinking, persuasive speaking, and presenting oneself with confidence.”

However, it’s safe to say that the most significant contributions Mr. Roelofs has made in the lives of his Mock Trial alumni are not those employable skills or a legacy of victory, but an example of how to simply be a Christian. 

“He cares so much about each of his students and it showed in the time he would take in coaching our Mock Trial team,” Ordway says earnestly. “I learned from Mr. Roelofs that investing time in people is one of the most fulfilling things in life. Even years after graduating Timothy, you would still find Mr. Roelofs reaching out to you to see how college or your career was going.”

When it comes down to it, Mr. Roelofs hasn’t just cultivated a winning team —  he’s cultivated future leaders.

There’s something between the marathon practices, tournament trophies, and pizza grease that Mr. Roelofs instills in his students. He does it simply by modeling his own leadership style: dedication, generosity, humor, humility, and consideration.

So, if you were to ask the Timothy Christian Mock Trial Team what makes them so successful, they could probably tell you in uncharacteristically few words: Mr. Scott Roelofs.