Abington Heights High School placed seventh at the 34th annual Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) statewide high school mock trial competition, held recently at the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg. The competition was sponsored by the PBA Young Lawyers Division.
The team was eligible to compete at the state level after winning the Region Ten competition, which includes schools in Bradford, Lackawanna, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties. This year, 294 teams from 252 high schools competed in district and regional levels of Pennsylvania’s mock trial competition, in hopes of gaining one of the 14 spots at the statewide competition. Pennsylvania’s competition is one of the largest in the nation, according to the PBA.
State winner Greensburg Salem will represent Pennsylvania in the national mock trial finals.
The Abington Heights High School mock trial team is composed of students Eliezer Caminero, Alyson Campbell, Dan Cummins, Clare Della Valle, Andrew Kirtley, Alex Klucher, Keonei Mahoney, Neel Mehta, Anna Moher, Nina Sampogne, Lucy Specht and Thomas Yocum. Their teacher/ coach is Leonard Romanski and their attorney advisors are Dan Cummins, Tom Specht and Julie Zaleski.
“The Abington Heights High School mock trial team demonstrated the outstanding level of critical-thinking and effective communication skills needed in the state championship level of competition,” said Joel C. Seelye of Altoona, chair of the association’s Young Lawyers Division. “We congratulate them for this achievement; it will serve them well as they progress in their academic and future careers.”
Romanski said his Abington Heights team was “excited and proud” to be district and regional champs and compete at the state level.
This year’s hypothetical case was a criminal trial to determine whether the defendant is guilty of committing an act of arson that destroyed an advanced automotive plant. The case was written by Jonathan A. Grode of Philadelphia, Paul W. Kaufman of Philadelphia, Koltash and Stanford University student Talia Charme-Zane, an alumna of the Pennsylvania mock trial program and former captain of the Central High School team in Philadelphia.
“Participating at the state finals competition is high pressure and they worked extra hard to prepare,” Romanski said. “They all did extremely well, and for the six seniors on the team, it was a great end to their high school mock trial careers.”
Romanski said Abington Heights High School students try out for the Mock Trial Team in October. “It’s a competitive process. Generally, only about 12 students make the team, a larger team gets difficult to manage,” he said. “The Pennsylvania Bar releases the case the first week of November, and we dive right in. There’s a lot to do, so we meet four or five times a week to prepare the case.”
But he added that all the hard work pays off.
“Mock Trial benefits students in a whole host of ways, because it makes so many demands on them. It really helps them in every aspect of their academic life. They are forced to read critically because there are so many details in the case that they have to pay attention to. They have to stand up in front of judges and lawyers and present their case, so it helps them develop their public speaking skills as well. In addition, they work closely with others to develop their case theory and prepare their presentation, so they really learn what it means to be part of a team,” said Romanski.
As their advisor, Romanski said he gets personal satisfaction.
He said, “Watching them grow and gain confidence in themselves is the best part. I try to push them to be better than they were the last trial, or the last season. Many of the kids stay on the team for three or four years in high school and they are not the same students I meet as freshmen. They really gain the confidence and skills to be successful in any endeavor they choose. That is extraordinarily satisfying.
“Not to mention that it’s just fun to hang around with them and work on an extended critical-thinking exercise — they are incredibly creative and funny.”
As for future plans, Romanski said the team will welcome at least six new members next year. He added that there is talk of attending more tournaments and scrimmaging some teams in the local district.