Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School team misses Mock Trial championship by a point

Last modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013
SOUTH HADLEY — The Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School’s mock trial team traveled to Boston on Wednesday, where they competed in the 28th annual Massachusetts Bar Association High School Mock Trial championship, missing the title by a single point.

The team — which consists of 14 students from PVPA — faced off against a team from Boston’s Winsor School in Faneuil Hall’s historic Great Hall, where they took on the roles of lawyers, witnesses and defendants as they presented a court case written by the Massachusetts Bar Association to three superior court judges.

“The students, they did a tremendous job,” said Gary Hugget, the PVPA team’s coach. “I am so proud of the performance they did; we literally lost by a tie-breaker point. I thought we had it, but reasonable minds can differ. I have no complaints about the quality of the judging, because it was that close.”

This year, the championship case involved an alleged murder. Students had to investigate the case, provide opening statements, conduct cross examinations, call witnesses to the stand and argue points of law.

Before the case begins, a coin is tossed to determine which team will play the part of the defense and which will act as the prosecution. This time, the PVPA team represented the prosecution.

“It’s kind of like (the television show) ‘Law & Order,’ like the courtroom scenes, with objections and so forth,” Hugget said. “The kids are doing all the stuff.” A student who played a doctor testifying as an expert witness, for example, was very believable, he said. “You’d think it was really a doctor on the stand.”

According to Hugget, the judges scored the teams on a variety of factors, such as their knowledge of the case and of law in general, their communication skills and their ability to capture the audience’s attention.

Though they were defeated this year, the PVPA team was victorious in 2005, 2011 and 2012.

“We have a standard of excellence in mock trial,” Hugget said. “This is our fourth straight year in the finals, and we’ve been to the finals nine times since 1998 and eight times since 2004, so we basically expect to be competing at that level every year, and have been able to achieve that, especially the last four years,” he said.

“Even though we’re disappointed, we’ll be back,” Hugget said.

In addition to teaching history at PVPA, Hugget is a lawyer and a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association. Hugget started the school’s mock trial team in 1996, and has been coaching it ever since.