About 1,000 students, 80 teachers, 350 attorneys, 100 community representatives and 110 mock trials in the state of Utah all came down to one number: eight.
That’s how many students from Woods Cross High School represented the state of Utah at the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Albuquerque, N.M., in early May.
It was the first time in the history of Woods Cross High that the debate team made it to the National Mock Trial Championship and the first time since 1994 that a school in the Davis County School District won the honor.
The team didn’t get to take home a national trophy, but they represented their school well and learned a lot about themselves and about the judicial system, said their teacher and debate coach Brooke Gregg.
The students were financially sponsored by Durham Jones and Pinegar, the University Of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and an anonymous donor. The students also raised money for their own expenses.
Gregg beamed with pride when she described the students she took to nationals.
“It was exciting; it was the highlight of my career. These are the finest kids I’ve ever coached,” Gregg said. “It was such a group effort with these guys, they knew they would win it together or lose it together.”
To make their way to nationals, the students first had to win state. This involved a mock trial where the team debated a case involving a 21-year-old who teased a gorilla at the zoo and was injured.
“We argued both sides of the case,” said junior Eric Luna. “When we realized we had won, we were just amazed. We were so excited to do something that Woods Cross High had never done before.”
Senior McKay Holbrook echoed those sentiments.
“When I realized we won state, I felt like screaming, but knew it would be unprofessional. I kept turning around in my seat. When they let us go, we yelled,” Holbrook said.
Gregg, who has coached debate for more than 20 years, had the help of her husband, Joseph. He assisted students with the theatrics and presentation of debate and the team worked without the assistance of attorneys.
“We were the underdogs going into state and totally the underdogs at nationals,” Brooke Gregg said. “The other schools were private with teams of attorneys behind them. We started at a disadvantage, but we performed well.”
Many of the other schools attending nationals were private and some were even named after law firms. Students from other schools traveled to nationals with teams of attorneys coaching them. Woods Cross was one of only two schools in the National Competition who did not have attorney coaches.
The team sacrificed a great deal for their performance.
“Preparing the case was a nightmare. We met every day after school and had meetings on Sunday. We were always preparing. Usually we deal with a case that is 39 pages. This case was 93 — it had five times the exhibits and we had less time to prepare,” said senior Lance Allred. “We gave up everything our social life, our time, our family, our jobs.”
It wasn’t just the team who gave up their time, it was their coach and her husband as well.
“We couldn’t have had a better coach or adviser who could juggle everything and still teach. She and her husband sacrificed so much for us,” said senior Cannon Nicholls.
All the students from the debate team praised the Greggs for their work and going above and beyond to help them achieve their goal. They referred to the Greggs as “our other parents.”
Students said being on the debate team made them better-rounded students and taught them to look at an argument from multiple sides. They were required to argue their cases from all positions as attorneys, witnesses, clerks and bailiffs. They presented arguments they didn’t agree with and learned to be persuasive.
The national competition was not all work. The team spent time bonding. They met students from all over the country, exchanged pins, swam, danced, ate and had a great time. They described the trip as the highlight of their senior year.
Some students plan to pursue careers in law other plan medicine or accounting. They said debate helped solidify their goals.
“I’m going into law,” senior Danielle Searle said. “I’ve been juggling with what I want to do, but after finishing this mock trial, I know it’s something I can and want to do.”