EASTHAM — The Nauset Regional High School mock trial team is officially among the eight best high school teams in the state this year. On March 8, the team traveled to Boston to compete in the Elite Eight round of the Mass. Bar Association’s statewide mock trial tournament, where they lost by one point to Dover-Sherborn High School.
But while the 11 members may not have bested their opponent, the mock legal team left the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse that day feeling victorious.
“Even though we lost, all of us walked out of the courthouse with smiles on our faces,” said sophomore Thomas White. “It was a little disappointing to lose, especially because it was just by one point,” White added. Then he reframed his argument: “But I would rather lose by one point than 20. It proves we were a good team, and we put in our all.”
“We didn’t walk out as winners, but we got to stay there that night, we went to a beautiful restaurant overlooking Boston Harbor, and the kids were dressed to the nines,” said the team’s coach, Katie McCully. “It just felt really good that all that hard work paid off.”
Nauset had advanced to the Elite Eight from the Sweet Sixteen round on Feb. 28, where the team beat Carver High School at Barnstable Superior Court by a score of 98-94. The final score of the Elite Eight match was 98-97.
After winning the coin toss to start the match, the team chose unanimously to argue for the plaintiffs — a departure from their regular season matches, in which they mostly played the defense.
The plaintiff in this year’s fictional civil suit was one Barry Jacob, described as the son of John Dymek Jacob, an imaginary stunt pilot who died in a plane crash during a practice run. The bar association’s case packet was called the “Triple Lindy.”
As far as the story goes, “Mass. Bar made it up,” senior captain Emily Plansky explained during a Feb. 26 practice. But to win a mock trial, debaters delve into the details as if they were real.
The Triple Lindy, Planksy said, is a stunt in which the pilot drops a roll of streamers from the cockpit and cuts around it three times in a spiral-like maneuver. When John Dymek Jacob performed the Triple Lindy one fateful day, the right wing of his Caborite Model 2 stunt plane sheared off, and the plane plummeted, sending Jacob to his death.
The mock case, then, was a wrongful death suit brought by Jacob’s son against the fictitious airplane manufacturing company, Caborite Aircrafts Inc. The Nauset team, taking the plaintiff’s side, argued that the design of the plane was defective; the defense argued that Jacob’s death resulted from pilot error.
The Nauset team worked on the case every day from January through March, perfecting arguments for both sides — the decision on which side to take is made at the competition. The team prepared, but also was aware that much of the art of a mock trial is about knowing how to think on your feet — especially when unforeseen obstacles are thrown your way.
“The other team had this strategy where they were objecting to everything, and it did frazzle us on a couple of occasions,” McCully said.
“When I was up there in the well, I was getting thrown off by their objections,” White said. “But I recall at least once or twice I was able to get back on the right track.”
Having the chance to compete in a federal courthouse was an unforgettable experience, White said. “It was so surreal to be in a courthouse where there have been so many rulings from actual cases that affected real lives and real people,” he said.
Starting in 2020, competition was conducted entirely remotely, McCully said. This year marked the first in-person season since the pandemic began. “Doing it on Zoom doesn’t even come close to doing it in person,” McCully said. “When you’re in the courtroom, all suited up, you can practically cut the tension. You’re looking at the other side and you’re sizing up your opponents just like you would in an athletic match.”
Bonnie Nunheimer, an attorney at the Orleans firm La Tanzi, Spaulding & Landreth who coaches the team with McCully, managed to secure a courtroom at the Orleans District Court on a couple of occasions for practice during the season.
“If we hadn’t practiced in the Orleans court, I don’t think we would have performed as well,” White said.
“We learned so much in such a short period of time,” McCully added. “We are so proud of everybody, and we’re thankful to our seniors because they taught us so much and have left us in a good place. Now we are ready to go into next year with boxing gloves on.”