Blair County students set for state mock trial

March is a tournament month.

Along with the NCAA basketball tournament, the state Pennsylvania Mock Trial tournament is also heating up and will feature academic stars from Blair County.

Spring Cove senior Conner Johnson has been admitted, and has committed, to Princeton University. He says one high school experience has put him in position to attend the Ivy League school.

“I’m getting in there largely through mock trial. It’s a great way to get noticed, coming from Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania,” he said. “I attribute it a lot to mock trial and [mock trial coach] Brad Heuston.”

Central High School from Spring Cove and Altoona Area High School each have teams competing in the mock trial state championship today and Saturday at the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg. The competition is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Association Young Lawyers Division.

Pennsylvania’s Mock Trial competition for high school students is one of the largest in the nation, states the Pennsylvania Bar Association website. It gives more than 290 public and private high school student teams from across the state the opportunity to act as lawyers and witnesses in simulated civil trials before actual judges and panels of juries.

Central High School and Altoona Area are consistently top contenders at the regional and state levels.

“It’s not a club to get a picture in the yearbook. It’s become prestigious at school,” Altoona Area coach, attorney Dave Andrews said. “The Altoona Area program has built over last several years.”

Altoona Area senior Rachel McIntosh could be attending Harvard University in the fall. She plans to study communications or marketing, she said. Senior Jacob Foose said he plans on attending Penn University or Penn State to study law or philosophy of economics and politics.

Brad Heuston, Central’s coach, said to compete at an elite level, students must be dedicated.

“Truthfully, what’s [needed] to be so good is students [that are] willing to give time. A lot of them are athletes [adding] nine to 10 hours per week to practice mock trial,” he said. “Mock trial is one of the few academic kinds of competition. I see a lot of kids who like to compete – soccer, basketball, cheerleaders. Good mock trial teams are made of kids who are good students and hate to lose.”

Andrews said mock trial is excellent preparation for students to enter life after high school.

“You need to communicate and think on your feet. There is no better training to give reasons and think quickly than this,” he said.

“Students are communicating by and large by text, and though that is a great alternative, they must be able to speak on their feet in a convincing manner – for example, for job interviews.”

Traci Naugle, Altoona attorney and chairwoman of the Mock Trial Executive Committee, said she has been impressed by Altoona and Central teams.

“They are phenomenal,” she said. “Altoona and Central have gone to state finals regularly.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.