Education

Marion Home School team wins national mock trial championship

Team improves from sixth-place finish last year

(From left) Attorney Matt Dake stands with Blake Stickley, Jessica Ertz, Christina Hawkins, Andrea Ertz, Dana Miller, Colin Gorton, Lauren Woltz,  Gabriel Groothuis, Ben Carlile, McKenna Kephart and Clayton Dryden, who won this year’s national mock trial championships. (Contributed photo)
(From left) Attorney Matt Dake stands with Blake Stickley, Jessica Ertz, Christina Hawkins, Andrea Ertz, Dana Miller, Colin Gorton, Lauren Woltz, Gabriel Groothuis, Ben Carlile, McKenna Kephart and Clayton Dryden, who won this year’s national mock trial championships. (Contributed photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A team comprised of students from the Marion Home School Assistance Program recently won the national mock trial championship in Boise, Idaho.

MHSAP, which won the state championship in April, defeated the defending champions from Nebraska.

Mock Trial involves students playing the roles of prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as witnesses. Teams usually have eight to 10 members, and a series of judges determine the winner.

“It is a lot about presentation, and having to know what the rules of evidence is — they have to know the law really well,” said Dana Miller, a MHSAP coach and teacher. “They have to think on their feet and be very quick to be able to argue their points. And if things don’t go their way they have to adjust. I’m just blown away by it.”

This year, the MHSAP team finished the season 12 and 0. The team also won the state title in 2013 and 2015, and finished sixth in the nation last year.

MHSAP Team Captain Gabe Groothuis won the Outstanding Attorney award this year for the second year in a row.

“The No. 1 skill in mock trial is listening, and this is something a lot of people have an issue with,” Groothuis said. “You can’t respond to an objection and you can’t respond to the witness if you don’t listen.

“Listen, think critically — you have to be able to look at stuff and realize stuff that should not be there. And think on your feet,” he added. “Anyone can memorize a part, it is not a play ... you have to poke holes in the other team’s theories, cross their witnesses. If you can’t think responsive and critically, you aren’t going to set yourself apart.”

Miller said the team practiced three days a week and “put in countless hours on their part to achieve their goal” of winning nationals.

The fictional case the team was presented with at nationals concerned a sheep herder who sued a cattle rancher for poisoning sheep.

“We had a lot to learn about viruses, so we brought in a vet, and we brought in a guy that has worked with cattle and learned from them,” Groothuis said. The team also would regularly bring in professional attorneys to give pointers during practices, he said.

Outside of mock trial, Groothuis said he uses his keen arguing skills on his dad.

This fall, Groothuis is attending the University of Northern Iowa and majoring in business management.

“I would like to own my own business someday, maybe something with law, but I’ll see where the Lord leads me. I’ll take it one year at a time,” he said.

The Marion Homeschool Assistance Program provides teachers and resources for families who homeschool their children, and is under the umbrella of the public school system. Miller said the program has 850 kids in grades kindergarten through 12.

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