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VOL. 125 | NO. 73 | Thursday, April 15, 2010

Support, Coaching Fuel Mock Trial Success

By Rebekah Hearn

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Michael Polovich cross examines a witness during a mock trial practice at Rhodes College.  The students were preparing for the national college mock trial competition to be held this weekend (April 16-18) in Memphis.  Photo: Lance Murphey

Rhodes College will host the 2010 American Mock Trial Association National Championship Tournament this weekend, making Memphis only the fourth city to host the nationals.

The event will be Friday through Sunday.

This year, the 48 competing teams include Duke and Harvard universities and, of course, Rhodes’ three teams, coached by law professor Mark Pohlmann, who started the first programs at Rhodes and Houston High School. He has won four national championships and made it to the national final round of competition on three other occasions.

Under his tutelage, Rhodes has earned the nation’s record for consecutive championship tournament appearances – 24 straight years.

For 22 years, the tournament was held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, the city in which collegiate mock trial began. The tournament left Iowa for the first time in 2007, when Stetson University in St. Petersburg, Fla., hosted the championship.

The 2008 nationals were held in Minneapolis. Now the plan is for the championship to return to Des Moines in odd-numbered years, while even-numbered years will feature a different venue.

Pohlmann, who teaches Mock Trial Participation among other classes, brought Rhodes’ team to fruition in 1987, when, as a pre-law adviser, he first learned about mock trial.

“I got a notice when I first came to Rhodes … advertising a national tournament,” he said. “So I grabbed six kids out of my Constitutional Law class and … we pretty much just kind of slapped something together and went. We didn’t do real well, as you can imagine, but the rest is kind of history.”

In the mid-1990s, Pohlmann also started the mock trial program at Houston High School. He said that team made it to the national tournament two consecutive years.

He praised Rhodes’ commitment to the team.

“It’s been nice that Rhodes is so supportive of our program,” he said. “We do have a competitive budget in our ability to travel students to tournaments, so we’ve been adequately funded by the college and, recently, with some help from alums, and it’s enabled us to stay competitive.”

The season begins when the American Bar Association announces the case to be argued in late August, and goes until mid-April.

“I don’t know of any season of any competition that runs from August to April; that’s a pretty significant commitment on the part of the kids involved,” Pohlmann said. “But they obviously both enjoy it and see benefit from it, or they wouldn’t put in that kind of time.”

Over the years, he said he’s been astonished at how well some of the students juggle their activities.

“I remember when I was in college, it was like the debaters were always so involved in debate, they might be B students, but that’s all they did was debate,” he said. “That’s not what I’ve found with mock trial. These kids seem to have a lot of other things going on in their lives and still able to pull off the balance.”

This year’s problem deals with a criminal case alleging a co-conspiracy to murder one of the partners of a major movie production company.

“It’s an amazing group of kids,” he said. “They’re pretty polished.”

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