BUHS Mock Trial at State: Small Team, Big Dreams




BRAWLEY – The BUHS Mock Trial Team had scored big individual awards in the past years of competition at State, but each one decided the whole team would step up, and as a cohesive unit they set their goal to place in the top ten at State.

The BUHS Mock Trial Team is made up of Bryan Wood, Abigail Phillips, Brooks Hamby, Madison Abatti, Dakota Hickingbottom, Alexis Snowden, Karen Lim, Jaycie Cruz, Alan Casey, Tiffany Hula, Amanda Garcia, and Jordan Abatti.

The captains, Brooks Hamby, Bryan Wood, and Abby Phillips, knew the sacrifice in time, studying, and practicing this goal entailed; and they lead the way.

“I don’t know if anyone truly knows how much time these kids practiced, and worked over the last six months”, said attorney-coach Deborah Owens.

Winning the county competition, the team of 12, qualified for state. Each county sends their best to state.

As Owen explained the David vs Goliath situation, “We only have twelve. Our 3 lawyers learn the prosecution’s case and the defendant’s case. They memorize both sides witnesses’ testimony, not knowing until the last minute which side they will take.”

“The elite teams to beat bring full prosecution teams, that is all they have to know is the prosecution side, and full defense teams. Their witnesses only know one story, our witnesses learn several parts. Some schools even bring more than one prosecution team.”

Bryan Wood concurred, “We were always asked ‘where is the rest of your team?’ ‘Who is your performance coach?’ We don’t have anything more than what you see!”

The small Brawley team caught the eye of many of the judges and competing coaches for their professionalism, their rehearsed argument, analytical skills, and their ability to reason last year.

As a result, they were invited last November to a Mock Trial Invitational in Santa Barbara. They not only picked up skills and exposure to the best teams in the state, they found friends.

Owens, and attorney-turned-teacher, Sherrie Newell, said that there were two schools of thought for the competing teams at State.

One was cut-throat, very aggressive, take no prisoners style. These teams kept isolated, with one school even having a bus pick the team up during lunch and sequester the group away from the others.

The second approach was more academic where others were looked upon as peers and possible networking partners.

“I definitely stressed the friendlier approach. Our students found friends, some found lifelong friends among the competition. I wanted them to make the best of their stay here, and with this group, being friendly and outgoing was already in their DNA,” Owens said.

And one, Bryan Wood, will room with a former mock trial team competitor when he goes to college in the fall.

BUHS Mock Trial team won their first competition against Clover, who took 4th last year, then lost the next competition to the team who placed 2nd last year, and went on to win their next two cases. The first case started at 7:30 a.m. and they had argued their last, walking out the doors at 8:30 that night.

Captain Abby Philips said, “Our last case was against Marin, the richest county in California, who sent an elite private school to State. And our little group from the poorest county in California beat them. I was so proud of us!”

As the teams convened for awards, they listened as all the individuals were called who had stood out. Brawley did not hear any of their names called. Their hope for hitting their goal of being in the top ten began to fade.

Only eight teams out of the 34 get medals. Last year, Brawley ranked in the twenties, they had worked long, hard hours for recognition and now the hour had arrived.

As the announcer called out 8th place, the team looked at each other, 7th place, and a sadness began to settle. Then, when Imperial County was called for 6th, confusion momentarily reigned as they had to ask each other for confirmation of what they had heard.

Time keeper, Amanda Garcia, who the team all called the un-sung hero because of the intense difficulties of maintaining two teams working times, minus judge’s statements, said, “We began to shout and scream and celebrate. We were happier and louder than all the rest of the winning teams! We couldn’t believe it. We did better than tenth place, we were 6th!”

Captain Brooks Hamby, who led the pre-trial arguments, learning both the prosecution side and defense, plans to join his college mock trial team, as do Captains Abby Phillips and Bryan Wood.

The team is heavy with seniors, but they hope their success encourages others to try out for the team.

Coaches Owen, Newell, and attorney Christine Ro, who was unable to attend, all expect to be back one way or another.

Trustee Carol Sassee, who brought flowers for the team, said, “We are so proud of their success, BUHS wants to be known for more than just an athletic school, but also for our academics, and this goes a long ways towards that goal.”