Students from across the state were able to get a boost on the mock trial season thanks to a camp Thursday.

Northwest High School hosted the first-ever mock trial camp for students to learn the basics of mock trial, including how to argue a case, analyze witness statements and about the rules of evidence.

Brian Gibson, the teacher coach for the Northwest mock trial team, said coaches have a “very limited” amount of time to work with students prior to the start of mock trial season and the camp allows students to learn the basics of mock trial.

“We spend so much time teaching the basics to the kids when they start,” he said. “Here, we can get that out of the way and start to focus on the actual case when it comes out. We think this is going to make us more competitive.”

During the mock trial camp, students broke out into small groups to discuss themes and theories and also worked on cross examinations, closing arguments and entering exhibits.

Gibson said the mock trial camp brought 10 students from Arapahoe, Northwest and Kearney. Gabi Hoffman, an incoming junior at Kearney High School, said she attended last week’s speech camp at Northwest and was told about Thursday’s camp after discussing mock trial with Gibson. Since Kearney has a new mock trial coach this year, Hoffman said she thought the camp would help her as she goes into the mock trial season.

“I like learning about what other teams do that is different than what we do in Kearney,” she said. “I want to learn more about theories and themes. It will make the case a little more interesting and will make our team’s performance more than just a legal thing.”

Damon Bennett, an incoming Northwest junior, said he felt the camp was a “great way” to start the year as it allowed teams to get the introductory things out of the way and avoid a rush once the mock trial case comes out to begin the season.

“Today we are looking at a lot of the technical stuff that is hard to cover during the regular season, like rules and what to do about analyzing statements and witnesses,” Bennett said. “Right now, we are going over the entire explanation of the case and what happened. We are making a theme off of that for an opening statement and basically going into detail about what we want to do throughout the case.”

Jennifer Kearney, an attorney with Bradley Law Office who serves as the attorney coach for the Northwest mock trial team, said the students had one-hour increments on different mock trial subjects with 15 to 20-minute breakout sessions for students to work together and process what they learned.

In addition to learning things from her and Gibson, Kearney said mock trial camp attendees were also able to learn from Grand Island attorneys Jared Krejci and Mark Porto, who volunteered their time to help with the camp.

During the camp, Porto said he planned to go over the rules of evidence and how to put together a cohesive story in conjunction with them to make things more effective in court.

“I think it is always fun to be around ambitious young people who find things interesting that you do. If I can help them, I will,” Porto said. “I am pretty blown away by how thoroughly these high school students know the rules of evidence, know what they are doing and how seriously they take it. If they carry that base level of knowledge to the point where they are actual lawyers, it only increases the level of the profession in general.”

Gibson and Kearney said their hope is to make the mock trial camp an annual event and grow it every year.

“I think this is a valuable program and it saves coaches a lot of time and stress to have the kids learn this stuff and work together,” Kearney said. “These kids are also going to end up competing against each other at some point, so it is a good idea for them to get to know each other now and work together now. They can also learn from each other because what one kid brings to the table is completely different than what another kid brings to the table.”

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