by Jack Figge
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — “Objection, your honor!” rang out from the defense table.
The outburst came not from a seasoned defense attorney nor a good-willed prosecutor, but from Maur Hill-Mount Academy freshman Hayden Lickhart, who was competing with his fellow students in the annual state mock trial competition.
For the first time in the Atchison school’s history, MH-MA has hosted a yearlong mock trial program. Now — another first — the school will be sending delegates to the national tournament to represent the entire state of Kansas.
A national program for high school students, mock trial aims to teach students about the judicial system through hands-on experience. At the beginning of the year, a realistic case is shared with each team. The team then spends months preparing and learning the ins and outs of the case, the laws that apply to each case and how to present the case in court.
Each team will then compete against other high school teams from their region in the regional tournament. Teams are judged based on their preparation, presentation, and knowledge of the case and law. The top four schools from the region advance to state competition, where the top performing team advances to the national tournament, this year to be held in Little Rock, Arkansas, May 18-20.
“We didn’t expect to win either state or nationals. We thought we’d get third place or something like that,” said sophomore Isaac Trotter. “Then, they announced our name, and we all went crazy celebrating with one another.”
Displays of unity like their celebration are the defining characteristic of the MH-MA team. Head coach Thomas Doyle, a pre-law student at Benedictine College in Atchison, can be thanked for fostering the rich community.
Noted for his ability to relate to the team and the experience he brings as a participant in his high school mock trial program, Doyle has helped the team to thrive and embrace their potential.
“You can’t even quantify the contributions Thomas has made to this team. He’s put in probably hundreds of hours,” said Judge Martin Asher, a retired county judge and adviser to the team. “Since he’s kind of close to the kids’ age, they look up to him as kind of an older brother. I mean, he is so dedicated to this. It’s just unreal.”
For two years, Doyle competed for his high school, Hayden High School in Topeka. There, his coach had an enormous impact not only on his mock trial preparation but also on his human formation, an impact that he now wants to pass on to his students.
“One of my coaches in high school was a part-time professor at [Topeka’s] Washburn law school. He’s been one of the most influential people in both my faith life and my interest in the legal profession. I thought that I could hopefully have this same impact on the high schoolers here.”
Doyle has built the team around two principles: faith and community. The team often prays together and has built a community centered on helping one another reach their potential.
“We pursue the Lord in everything; he is our strength,” said Trotter. “We also have an intense work ethic and have great team chemistry. We just work well with each other to achieve the goals we set.”