AHS Mock Trial team wins State, Nationals next


Photo published with permission by Becky Jordan

The Miller-Metzger Academy with their coaches. From left to right: Stephanie Gray, Hannah Pross, Nicki Casady, Sareena Casady, Marissa Larson-Minar, Mallory Jordan, Hayden DeWitt, Chloe Andersen, Grant Miner, Marcus Miller, Noah Yeager, Joe Metzger, Raegan Hansen, Amy Akers.

Vivian Wu, Web/Print/Multimedia Editor; Videographer

Ankeny Mock Trial’s Miller-Metzger Academy team won state finals at the 2023 Iowa High School Mock Trial Tournament on Wed., March 29. The team will continue on to the 2023 National High School Mock Trial Championship in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they will represent Iowa in the mock State of Arkansas v. Cumberland homicide case. 

This is the first Ankeny Mock Trial team to win State, as well as head coach Marcus Miller’s first team to win this honor. 

This team is my first team to win state, and they did so convincingly,” Miller said. 

The team won a total of 16 ballots, tied one ballot, and lost one ballot, winning all seven of the trials they participated in this year. Additionally, they won the Judge Critelli Award at State, an award given to teams that display the best sportsmanship, civility, and courtroom decorum. 

“More importantly to me is the fact that this team is very respectful, kind, and eager to learn,” Miller said.

Mock Trial is a courtroom based activity where students assume the roles of lawyers and witnesses in conducting a trial,” Miller said.

For those who are unfamiliar with the activity, Mock Trial is a competitive activity where teams debate over fictional trials. 

“It is a wicked combination of competitive acting and debate,” Joe Metzger, assistant coach of the Miller-Metzger Academy, said. “Every year there is a district tournament where only the top teams from each region advance.” 

This year’s advancing team will be Ankeny’s very own Miller-Metzger Academy. 

The Miller-Metzger Academy consists of 10 members: junior Chloe Andersen, senior Nicki Casady, freshman Sareena Casady, junior Hayden DeWitt, junior Stephanie Gray, junior Mallory Jordan, junior Marissa Larson-Minar, senior Grant Miner, senior Hannah Pross, and junior Noah Yeager.

“It feels so gratifying, “ Jordan said, who acts as an attorney on the defense and plaintiff. “We have all worked tirelessly for this win for months, starting as early as October.”

This accomplishment is something the team has been working toward for a long time.

“I am so happy and proud of the students for winning the state tournament,” Miller said. “The students worked extremely hard, beginning in November, to perfect their parts, learn the law, and prepare for the unexpected.” 

 “Our students deserve it. They worked harder than any other team in the state and absolutely earned this win,” Metzger said. “But while the kids deserve a lot of credit, our attorney coach Marcus Miller is the biggest reason we won.”

Metzger’s fiancé, Marcus Miller, is the head attorney coach of the Miller-Metzger Academy and a lawyer from the University of Iowa and Harvard.  

“This year was my second year with Ankeny and fourth year coaching a high school team overall,” Miller said. “I love all aspects of Mock Trial, including the competition, the skills it teaches, and the friendships you form through participation.”

In addition to Miller and Metzger, the team has seven other coaches: Kelsey Cooper, Vanessa DeMarco, Raegan Hansen, Libby Messman, Hannah Molyala, Alyssa Roush, and Peyton Soethout. 

“We have an army of coaches,” Yeager said. “He [Miller] recruits his former students to help coach… They are all fantastic and we are grateful for each and every one of them.”

The season officially begins in November. 

“We started with Zoom practices in November, about a month and a half before the case came out. This was where we discussed broad and technical aspects of the law,” DeWitt said, who plays a witness on the plaintiff and acts as a timekeeper on the defense. 

The beginning practices take place two times per week, each practice being two hours long.

“Once the case came out, we had some in-person practices where it would be easier to discuss our case theories and characters,” DeWitt said. 

At this point in the season, practice is added to the week.

“Because our team is very dedicated, we met at least three times a week for two hours with at least one scrimmage a week starting in February,” Gray said, an attorney on the defense.

On top of that, students have 1-on-1 practices.

“We often have students getting 1-on-1 attention from coaches to help them develop their acting—if the student is a witness—or plan for legal battles—if they are a lawyer,” Metzger said.

Following part assignments, the team begins scrimmages, or non-competitive practice matches, with other teams.

“After we get our parts written, we enter into scrimmage season, where we scrimmage other teams to work out any issues so that the students can deliver the most polished performance possible,” Miller said.

After winning first place at the Regional Mock Trial Competition, the team prepares for State by practicing nearly every day. 

“Towards the end of the state season, we did a lot more in person practices because it was just overall an easier way to go about things, and we’re all so close with one another that we preferred it that way,” DeWitt said.

The team has been working on this case since the beginning of the season.

“The plaintiff, or the person suing, is Peridot Moore. They are suing a reality game show, Prairie Storm, and its company Prairie Storm Entertainment Group,” Andersen said, who plays a witness on the defense. 

It is a case of breach of contract, fraud, and defamation. 

“[The show] allegedly forced fellow contestants on the show to vote Peridot Moore off, so they are suing them for breach of contract in fraud” Andersen said. “However, Peridot Moore made statements on social media that caused Prairie Storm to lose their TV contract. So, there is a countersuit by defense of defamation.” 

In matches, teams win by gaining a larger cumulative score over the other. 

“Each part can get up to 10 points… Each person is either a witness or a lawyer. Each side, plaintiff or defense, has three witnesses,” Andersen said.

Every match starts off with a pre-trial, where both sides introduce themselves along with the stipulations they will be following for the trial. 

“Next, there are opening statements. One lawyer from each team gets up, and gives a brief overview of the case for around four minutes,” Andersen said.

The plaintiff then begins with their case-in-chief, calling three witnesses and their respective attorneys for a direct examination.

“Afterwards, the other team’s lawyer gets a chance to question the witness,” Andersen said.

This is called a cross examination.

“This repeats for the defense case-in-chief. Finally, there are closing statements,” Andersen said. “These are eight-minute long speeches made by one attorney from each team that wraps up the case.”  

Andersen first learned about Mock Trial through a friend. 

“My freshman year, she [my friend] convinced me to join a team. Long story short, we weren’t very good, and I didn’t really want to continue the following year,”  Andersen said. 

But something made her stay.

“By the time I had the courage to tell my coach I didn’t want to participate, I was assigned a part, and couldn’t back out, “ Andersen said. “I stuck with it and fell in love with it.”

DeWitt also joined through a friend. 

“I first heard about Mock Trial through Mallory, when she was in her sophomore season. When Mallory was preparing in the fall for her audition, she jokingly said I should try out because I had such a good Australian accent,” DeWitt said.

What started as a joke soon turned into a reality.

 “I auditioned, expecting not to make the team because I was very inexperienced. However, I did, and now we’re going to nationals! I owe it all to Mallory!!!” DeWitt said.

For those looking to join Mock Trial, it can be a challenge, but it can also be rewarding. 

“One of the main challenges is definitely time commitment… It’s hard not to get burnt out, but winning makes all the time commitment worth it,” Andersen said.

The skills developed from the activity are worth the time.

“It does involve a big time commitment, but it is well worth the work because the skills you learn in Mock Trial are transferable to any area of life, regardless of whether you decide to enter the legal profession,” Miller said.

Because Mock Trial combines the art of acting and debate, fans of either are sure to enjoy the activity. 

If you like acting/plays/musicals you will LOVE being a witness. It takes acting to the next level, adding a competitive component, and we train you to think on your feet,” Metzger said. “If you like debate/speech you would have so much fun as a lawyer. You get to learn how the criminal justice system works and how to battle the rules of evidence.”

“The Miller-Metzger Academy is not the only team at AHS,” Metzger said. “We have a pretty thorough preparation, but not everyone in the Mock Trial has to be on our team.”

  Some will be happy to hear that there are plenty of other teams that offer an equally challenging but less rigorous practice schedule. 

“There are lots of other teams at Ankeny that are more chill and just have fun,” Metzger said.

All of Ankeny High School’s Mock Trial teams are organized by Amy Akers, the Academics Extended Learning Program (AELP) teacher at Southview.

“We are sponsored by Amy Akers who is so amazing at her job. She is the reason why most of us are in Mock Trial to begin with,” Yeager said.

In fact, Akers is the one who recruited Miller and Metzger. 

“While we love our students, getting to work with Mrs. Akers is the main reason we’re at Ankeny,” Metzger said.

As the head of Ankeny Mock Trial, Akers spends hours organizing practices, scrimmages, and all the nitty gritty details of Mock Trial. 

“Without her, Ankeny Mock Trial wouldn’t be about to kick butt at nationals… Without Amy, there’s no shot we would have stayed,” Metzger said. 

For the students, team bonding is a big reason why they stay. 

“As for the best parts [of Mock Trial], it would probably be the family aspect. Our coach did what we like to call ‘forced rapport’. We spent a lot of time hanging out outside of practice,” Andersen said. “After spending so much time with the same ten people, you get to know them really well.”

Their rapport is something that sets them apart. 

 “We saw lots of other teams and I don’t think any of them were nearly as close as we are,” Andersen said. 

Throughout the season, the Miller-Metzger Academy has created team traditions and shared inside jokes.

“We have lots of traditions that we run through each time we compete,” Andersen said.

Some of these traditions involve praying to Cupid and reciting affirmations.

“We are fully convinced that if we don’t do them, then we will lose, so we do them every time,” Andersen said. 

In fact, the name of the team started off as a joke. 

“[It is] a name that started as a meme because it sounded pretentious but somehow ended up being our team name,” said Metzger. 

“Officially, we are the Miller-Metzger Academy. Unofficially we have a lot of nicknames that we like to call ourselves,” Gray said, an attorney on the defense. 

This social aspect is what really makes Mock Trial a team sport.

“In Mock Trial, it isn’t just about your individual parts; your team needs to be cohesive. All of your parts need to fit together to make your cohesive case theory,” Jordan said. “Mock Trial can be very mentally draining, so you always need to have your teammates back and support each other.”

The team has gone through thick and thin together. But perhaps the best experience they have gotten to share, is their victory at State.
“Hands down my favorite part was the moment right before we were announced State champions,” DeWitt said. “We were all huddled around the council table, squeezing each other’s hands, holding our breath, to then hear our name called. It was really just such an impactful moment because we care so much about each other, and this win is deserving to each and every one of our team members. In that moment, we were the epitome of a team.”

Their teamwork, talent, and intelligence has rightfully earned them the title of state champions. 

“This team is loaded with genius. Every member on this team is smarter than me and they worked their butts off to get here,” Metzger said.

The team will be attending the 2023 National High School Mock Trial Tournament on May 18, 2023. 

“I am so excited to represent Iowa at Nationals, and for our team’s bond to grow even stronger,” Jordan said.