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PVVHS Mock Trial Team Featured in Professional Publication


By BRUCE E TODD
Special to The Desert Independent

April 12, 2012

In the April, 2012 edition of the Riverside Lawyer magazine, Mr. Bruce E. Todd of the firm of Osman and Associates in Redlands penned a column detailing the challenges that met the Mock Trial team from Palo Verde Valley High School. Following is that column reprinted with permission from the author and publishers of Riverside Lawyer.

Palo Verde Valley High School 2012

BLYTHE, Calif – The Mock Trial competition in Riverside County presents unique challenges for all of the participating high schools. Possibly none of them, however, encounter as many difficulties as those faced by Palo Verde Valley High School in Blythe.

The school is located on the eastern fringe of the county, just a couple of miles from the Arizona border. Many of the students are from lower-income blue collar families; their parents work the nearby farms and/or provide the staffing for the two local correctional facilities. Unlike in the city, the students from this rural area often have to travel great distances just to attend school. And, of course, those who participate in the Mock Trial competition encounter lengthy trips to the courthouses in Indio and Riverside where the county competitions are held.

Dennis Hackworth has been involved in coaching the team for the past three years. He is an inactive California attorney who has been engaged in teaching since 1996. He has been an English teacher at Palo Verde Valley High School for the past five years. During the time he has been involved in coaching Mock Trial at the school, Hackworth has observed at first hand the challenges of running the Mock Trial squad.

“To begin with, we generally can’t have team meetings,” said Hackworth. “For many of the kids, Mock Trial is one of four or five activities in which they participate. They are not often available for team meetings. Also, a lot of them live a long way away, so it is hard to practice with them.”

Hackworth said that it is not uncommon for the first time that the entire team is together is at the first competition. Thurs, he tries to determine the interests and the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor, and then he meets individually with each of them. He starts working with the students in October, when he receives the materials for the competition. He currently does not have any assistant coaches to aid him.

“It’s a struggle,” he emphasized. “We just do it piecemeal. The first competition is the first time that they all come together.”

Hackworth notes that the school used to have a class for Mock Trial, for which the students would receive credit. The class has been dropped from the curriculum due to budgetary cutbacks.

“Due to the lack of teachers, we don’t have an elective class for Mock Trial, like other schools,” he commented. “We have 15-20 real smart kids on the team, but it is hard without a class.”

Another challenge facing the school’s Mock Trial team is the rural nature of Blythe and the surrounding area.

“Many of the kids’ families are working class,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of funding. Many of the parents can’t afford to travel to the competition to watch their kids.”

Speaking of travel, the school undoubtedly has the biggest disadvantage of all of the teams in the competition. Each school in the competition is guaranteed participation in the first four rounds. For Palo Verde Valley High School, the first round is at the Indio Courthouse; the next three rounds are at the courthouse in Riverside.

“For the round in Indio (which is on a school night), the competition ends around 8 p.m., and we get back home around 11 p. m.” said Hackworth. “We use school district vans, and it usually takes two vans to get the team to the competition.”

The trip to the Saturday competition in riverside presents even more difficult hurdles.

“We leave at 4:30 a.m., and we are sometimes just walking in the door at 9 a.m., when the competition is set to begin,” he said. “We usually stop in Beaumont so that the kids can change into their court clothes.”

Hackworth noted that, since many of the students hail from lower income families, most of them don’t have typical “court” clothes.

“Perception plays a part of it,” he commented. “I can think of only one kid on our team who has a suit. We don’t always look like lawyers.”

He estimated that the school has been participating in the Mock Trial competition since approximately 2000. During that time, he does not believe that the team has ever qualified for the final “Elite Eight” teams. He believes that the highest that the team has ever placed is approximately 16th place. He isn’t sure how many of the school’s participants have eventually enrolled in law school, but he is aware of at least one former “blue ribbon” winner who is planning to pursue a law degree.

“Through the years, we have had some kids achieve individual blue ribbons,” he said. “It has just been harder recently without having the Mock Trial class available at school.”

He is hopeful that, someday, the budget and staffing will be available so that the Mock Trial class can return to the school’s curriculum. “We have to create an atmosphere of success, and that success will breed success,” he envisions. “It will be good for future Mock Trial teams and the school itself.”

Postscript:

The above article was written prior to the start of this year’s Mock Trial competition. As it turned out, the trials and tribulations continued for the team, as they finished 0-4 and were eliminated from further competition.

As an example of the travel hardships faced by the team, two of the team members did not arrive at the bus by 5:30 a.m., when it had to leave for the 9 a.m. start of the furth session of competition in Riverside. After waiting 15 minutes, the bus eventually had to depart for the long early-morning haul to Riverside. Luckily, another team member who wasn’t scheduled to compete that day was rousted from her bed and was able to join the team on it’s journey. The team didn’t arrive until 9:15 a.m., but still was able to engage in a spirited competition with its opponent before losing by just percentage points.

Hackworth would like to thank his team members, including Melissa Blansett, Cecila Comacho, Alexandra Dye, Pedro Espinosa, Daniel Hawkins, Julia George, Dazanique Kidd, Jake Klingensmith, Cody Krisell, Noelle McMillin, Amanda Phipps, Kelsie Riddle, Jessica Salinas, Kelly Stewart, Arianna Tribby, Marisol Varela and Sharon Ware.

Although the team was winless, Hackworth commented, “They are having a good time and are talking about recruiting for next year. We (do) a lot of role-switching as students get sick, work on competing activities, and have unforeseen emergencies.”

“I am looking forward to next year, and so are my returning team members,” he said.

Hackworth emphasized, “The important thing is that they enjoy the competition and have fun.”



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