In just the program’s fifth year, NIU’s mock trial team has earned its second consecutive bid to the American Mock Trial Association’s (AMTA) upcoming National Championship Tournament.
NIU went 6-2—with wins over Northwestern, Wheaton College and the University of Arizona included—during the Opening Round of Championship Series (ORCS) competition in Geneva last month, earning one of 48 spots (out of more than 600 teams) in the national. The tournament will be held in Los Angeles, CA, from April 21-23.
NIU is joined by the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as the only state schools to reach the tournament.
Despite being relatively new, NIU’s team regularly competes against top-notch schools from around the country. The team hit a big milestone in 2016 when it qualified for the national in South Carolina, but expected a rebuilding year after the graduation of team leaders prompted an influx of rookies.
Things have gone better than expected.
“This season has been mind-blowing,” NIU Mock Trial President and team Co-captain Kaitlyn Harper said. “Last year we were the underdogs. This year, I was expecting to be in the same position. I don’t think we’re in that position anymore.”
That’s because of solid successes in several invitational tournaments, including a stronger than expected fall, Harper explained. The team posted a second-place finish in the national’s regional stage and ranked in the top six at ORCS to secure back-to-back national appearances.
Political science professor Mitch Pickerill, who founded the team, admits to being a bit of a proud parent talking about the team’s growth.
“I’m excited for them,” Pickerill said. “They are committed and working hard.”
This season, mock trial teams have worked on an age discrimination case, but the national brings with it a new case, involving copyright infringement. Pickerill said the team is developing its game plan.
Team members play the role of lawyers and witnesses, learning public speaking, teamwork and the law along the way. Pickerill said the students go through the equivalent of three law school classes early in the season before heading into competition.
The team’s dedication has led to individual awards for Harper and many of her teammates. Andrea Alcantar and Jeong-Mee Mok-Morrison earned witness awards during the regional. Ben McCarty, Angelica Lebron and Aleesha Parent were recognized by judges at fall invitationals. Lebron won an Outstanding Witness award at ORCS.
Harper, a junior political science major from Minooka, has snagged 11 Outstanding Attorney awards to lead the nation in that category this season, according to Pickerill. He describes Harper as naturally talented, coachable and “quick on her feet.” Harper credits her team for her personal growth.
“I know I’ve learned from them,” she said, noting the team is focused on its goals. That emphasis is why NIU has won the Spirit of AMTA award, which is judged by their opponents, at several competitions.
“We go to put NIU on the map,” Harper said.
Added Pickerill, “I’m proud of them, and I want them to have some pride in the institution.”