Written by Amy Bode
Senior Charles Hooker was recently accused of being a mercenary on the witness stand.
It didn’t rattle him though.
As part of Timothy Christian Schools’ undefeated Mock Trial team, he was mentally prepared for an assault on his character. And so was attorney Grace Files, a senior who was named Outstanding Attorney at the State Competition. She immediately objected to the accusation. “You have to be able to adapt and think on your feet,” Coach Scott Roelofs says. “That’s the hardest thing. You need to be poised and articulate and be able to answer the tough questions.”
The history of Timothy Christian’s Mock Trial team is as long as the team’s accolades. Thirty years ago, a student whose favorite show was LA Law, approached history and economics teacher Mr. Roelofs and asked if they could start a Mock Trial team. “When we started the team, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Mr. Roelofs admits. “On the way to our first trial, we were writing opening statements and we winged closing arguments.”
Now with seven State Championships and multiple appearances at the National Competition, Mr. Roelofs and his Mock Trial team no longer wing anything. It’s carefully choreographed and researched, down to each character’s personality nuances.
Part theater, part law, each student on Mock Trial is either a lawyer or a witness. They are each given affidavits, which they must memorize. This year, Timothy’s team was led by senior lawyers Trevor Hoogendoorn, Grace Files, Josh Kalapala and Elijah Tornow, who was also awarded Outstanding Attorney at the State Competition. Charles, along with Nick Terpstra and junior Elizabeth Canfield, were all expert witnesses.
While the direct examination between Timothy's lawyer and witness is scripted like a play, the cross-examination is not. “You never know what the other team will do,” Mr. Roelofs says. “They will try to set a trap, maybe twist the meaning of your words. You have to be prepared for that.”
Preparation starts in the summer, even before the actual case is announced. The team works on court decorum and legal terms. Tryouts are held in the early fall. In November, the State Bar Association gives teams the case that will be tried throughout the season.
This year it was a college hazing case. A fraternity forced pledges to play a game of “water jeopardy.” Students were asked questions and forced to drink water for any wrong answers. One student drank so much water, she collapsed and eventually died. The pledge master was charged with involuntary manslaughter and hazing.
Each Mock Trial team must prepare to be both the defendant and the prosecution. They try the case in front of an actual judge and are scored by attorneys. They earn points for direct examination, cross-examination, closing arguments, and each part of the trial.
Mock Trial has no divisions or classes, unlike sports. So Timothy Christian’s team is often pitted against much larger schools such as York High School, Hinsdale Central, and Maine South High School--all of which they handily defeated this year.
This year, Charles was assigned to act as Dr. Jordan Peters, an expert witness for the defense. Charles not only had to memorize medical terminology, such as triiodothyronine, but had to learn what it meant and how it affects people. He also had to develop idiosyncrasies that would convince the jury and judge that he was indeed a 55 year-old pathologist.
Without any experience in theater, Charles spent weeks working with Mr. Roelofs and Mrs. Cathy McNeil Stein, the lawyer that also coaches the team, perfecting his role. His character, Dr. Peters, was also often accused of having a personal vendetta against the opposing witness, Dr. Craig, because he was given the job of the county coroner instead of Dr. Peters’ son.
It’s the humanness of the characters and their personal stories that not only makes Mock Trial challenging for the players, but also more realistic. “I had to defend my testimony,” Charles said. “I got really into it. My whole voice changes. I have a voice inflection when I’m in character.”
It’s this dedication to perfecting his character that earned him the Outstanding Witness Award at the State Competition. He kept perfecting his character as Dr. Peters until the last trial. While his character was well-educated, with degrees and training from Northwestern, Duke, Tennessee, and Maryland, the character seemed bland. “Mr. Roelofs and Mrs. Stein helped me work on my closing statement,” Charles says. “So to defend my testimony, I said the line: ‘I went from being a Wildcat to a Blue Devil, to a Volunteer, to a Terrapin, and now I’m just a pathologist.’”
It’s these seemingly natural zingers, ones that are written and rehearsed, that mixes a combination of a character’s personal history and facts, which often win points at the trials.
And Timothy’s entire team became experts at it, earning them all individual awards throughout the season. Even though Timothy’s team of lawyers and witnesses were feared in the courtroom, they remained true to their Christian morals. “We want Christian lawyers,” Mr. Roelofs says. “There are ethics and decisions that have to be made. Timothy is teaching that.”
In March, they competed at the State Competition at University of Illinois School of Law in Champaign-Urbana, where they were undefeated. But Timothy was narrowly outscored by St. Charles North, who were also undefeated. While Timothy proudly captured second place at State, they unfortunately never had the opportunity to face St. Charles North in the courtroom. “As a coach you always want your team to reach their full potential. And that’s what these guys did,” Mr. Roelofs says. “I don’t know what else we could have done. They worked hard every day. I’m very proud of them.”
The seniors, who earned a first place finish at State last year and a trip to Nationals, will join the ranks of distinguished Mock Trial alumni. It is a legacy filled with ministers, thirty lawyers, and Mac Wiener, Timothy’s current Bible teacher, who was a witness on the first team.
Practice will begin again in the summer. Not only will the team start preparing for the next trial, but a summer camp is open to sixth through eighth graders who want to experience Mock Trial. “Mock Trial teaches kids how to speak in front of people and helps develop poise and confidence,” Mr. Roelofs says. “I have students who graduated long ago and they come back and say Mock Trial is one of the most important things that helped them prepare for their future.”
Amy Bode is a writer, mom of three Timothy students, and a follower of Christ. Want to share your Timothy Story? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.