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Wauwatosa West mock trial teams advance to semifinals

Students have been preparing long and hard for state meet

Wauwatosa West High School senior Marena Leisten, 17, playing the part of a witness, looks on during practice.

Wauwatosa West High School senior Marena Leisten, 17, playing the part of a witness, looks on during practice. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Feb. 19, 2014

For a dozen years, a dedicated group of Wauwatosa West High School students have demonstrated their interest in the legal process as participants on a mock trial team.

This year, the team is reaching a milestone as they prepare to advance to a state semifinal competition March 9 in Madison. West's mock trial team has never advanced beyond the local level since its formation.

West students will compete against mock trial teams from 11 other schools across Wisconsin. Seven of the teams are competing in the semifinals as winners in regional competitions, while five others — including West — are participating through a wildcard process.

Lindsey Draper, who serves as a so-called attorney coach on West's mock trial team, said there has been a high degree of excitement among the dozen or so students who have been regular participants since the beginning of the school year.

"There's been a lot of ambition to make it to state," said Draper, who is a professional attorney and has served in a variety of capacities over the years. He is a former assistant district attorney and a court commissioner with Milwaukee County.

West's mock trial team came close to advancing last year when it competed at the regional level in Waukesha. It was the runner-up.

This year, Draper said, student participation at West has risen to the highest point he has witnessed in his near decade of helping coach the team. He attributes the team's advancement this year to the heightened enthusiasm.

Participation, in fact, has grown so much that two mock trial teams have been formed. Both are advancing to the semifinals.

Draper and head coach Stephen Oliver have been meeting with students since the beginning of the school year at least once a week to go over trial cases and help students prepare strategies. Draper said many of this year's student participants also have been meeting on their own time.

Each mock trial team across the state works on the same case in an effort to level the playing field from one school to the next.

"The facts of the situation are the same," Draper said. "It's what you do with those facts that distinguishes your team."

With assistance from coaches, students have a role in determining how they are going to convey their message to a mock jury.

Draper said he finds great joy in witnessing students progress throughout the practice rounds.

"It's great seeing young people excel," he said. "They have been pouring themselves into this. It really is a thrill to see what they turn into, and just how good they really are. It becomes evident just how capable and knowledgeable they become."

The top two teams at the semifinals will square off in a state competition March 10. The top team will advance to the national competition later this year. This year, nationals also will be held in Madison.

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