Senior Smriti Gupta, standing, practices a presentation for the international competition in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The school's team competed last year and lost to teams from Colorado and Florida that were among the top 15 in the country.
Southview High School students are preparing for a big court case in New York this month.
The teens are members of the school's mock trial team and are to compete in an international competition in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, also known as the Brooklyn federal court or the Theodore Roosevelt federal courthouse.
Teams from six countries and 25 states are to participate in the event, called the Empire Mock Trial Invitational.
Just qualifying to compete is an achievement. Only the best teams from across the country make it.
The Southview team made the cut on the strength of its record, which includes five state championships, a second-place finish, and finishing seven times in the top four teams in Ohio in the 16 years the group has been coached by Dennis Lyle, a Toledo trial lawyer who does plaintiff and defense litigation.
The team competed in the Empire Invitational last year and lost to teams from Florida and Colorado that were among the top 15 in the country.
Dennis Lyle, a Toledo trial lawyer, is the Southview team's coach, leading it to five state championships in 16 years.
The students traveling to New York are juniors and seniors: Smriti Gupta, Kevyn Cavanaugh, Breanna Crye, Priyanka Pitroda, Richa Agarwal, Naveena Luke, Austen Mance, and Isaac Jackman.
The "case" they are preparing is Drew Walton vs. Blitz News Network.
It involves a defamation lawsuit filed against a news organization by a gubernatorial candidate, "Drew Walton," who alleges the network damaged his reputation by falsely implying that he shot a man in a parking lot outside a gubernatorial debate that he participated in.
The death was ruled a suicide, and the plaintiff accuses the network of acting with malice and reckless disregard by suggesting to a national audience that he pulled the trigger on the firearm that did the killing.
The students have been practicing intensively, even using the Sylvania City Council chamber, which is somewhat similar to a courtroom.
They take turns playing various roles such as witnesses and attorneys, so they can see what a trial is like from both sides. They've also been raising money to help cover the $6,000 cost of the trip.
Austen Mance listens as a teammate makes point. The team, playing various roles, has held some practices in Sylvania City Council chamber to more closely simulate conditions of a courtroom.
"They've done car washes and a bake sale, and the school provides some support," Mr. Lyle said.
The main expense is the cost of New York hotel rooms, Mr. Lyle said. He and his wife, Vicki Donovan Lyle, will drive the team. Mrs. Lyle is president of the Sylvania board of education.
The team members, for their part, say they look forward to the competition. Some went to New York for the invitational last year. Win or lose, they say, they have benefited from their mock trial work.
"My speaking is greatly improved," said Smriti. "I am more comfortable speaking and using terminology."
She said she also enjoys the opportunity to act and can lapse into a dead-on perfect Hindi accent if doing so helps her performance as a witness.
But she most likes playing an attorney on cross examination.
"When you have a witness backed up into a corner and you know that you can hold him to a specific line, the feeling of power is indescribable," she said.
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