Evidently, they pleased the court.

Evidently, they pleased the court.

The mock trial team at Woodward Park Middle School earned the highest scores among the 32 teams from throughout Ohio that participated in the Middle School Mock Trial Showcase in mid-April. The event was held in no less an august setting than the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, home to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Team members and their legal advisers, Judge Kim A. Browne of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Domestic Relations and Juvenile Division, and Assistant State Public Defender Terrence Scott, celebrated their stellar showing last week with parent consultants Cindy Herpolsheimer and Carmen Fryman.

Presiding over the proceedings was a beaming Matthew Berkal, gifted and talented teacher at Woodward Park Middle School and coach of the team for the past seven years.

The mock trial program, which at the middle school level involves court cases crafted from a work of literature, is sponsored by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education, a nonprofit organization that was formed in 1983 when "interested groups came together to explore how Ohio could better inform students about their constitutional rights and responsibilities and fill a void in law-related education," according to its website.

"A coalition of the Ohio State Bar Association, Ohio Attorney General Anthony Celebrezze, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio strongly believed that partnerships between the educational and legal communities could effectively achieve this goal and together founded Ohio Mock Trial, a statewide high school mock trial program. The Supreme Court of Ohio, which is also a strong proponent of law and citizenship education, became a program sponsor in June 1988."

Four of the middle school teams in the Mock Trial Showcase, including Woodward Park Middle School, received superior ratings for their scores in various aspects of the competition and of those, Berkal said, his team scored the highest.

Members of the Woodward Park Middle School team are Assata Gilmore, Lucas Silva, Carly Fryman, Devin Chaffins, JaiJuan Solis, Abby Beers, Cobalt Kaiser, Victoria Heard, Michael Williams, Jay Herpolsheimer and Tavier Roddy.

The students took on the roles of defense attorneys, defense witnesses, prosecution attorneys and prosecution witnesses and even bailiff for the competition, which involved a court case crafted out of the 1997 book Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. The winner of the Newberry Medal when it came out, the book is a "vivid story of a black family whose warm ties to each other and their land give them strength to defy rural Southern racism during the Depression," according to Booklist.

For a teacher, Berkal said, mock trial represents something ideal in terms of learning. The children are exposed to not only the field of law and civic responsibility, but they have to write, analyze a work of literature and speak in public.

"It's multifaceted," he said. "They have to break a sweat and they have to learn. I see them grow as learners."

Mock trial participants learn leadership, in the opinion of Judge Browne, one of the team's legal advisers for the past three years.

"We can't help them once they get to the actual trial," she said.

"I got a better understanding of the legal process," said team member Tavier Roddy, who added the experience does not have him leaning toward becoming a lawyer.

"Being a witness, I learned how to write and create direct and redirect questioning," Victoria Heard said.

"The best part was just hanging around with everyone," said Abby Beers, who was named an outstanding attorney during the competition. "The hardest part was just getting confident in what you were saying."

"We clearly swept the awards," Berkal told his team of its showing at the state event. "We shined."