Photo courtesy of Kathy Gameros.

The mock trial team from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts placed 11th at last year’s national competition. It was the first time the school had made an appearance there since 2010. 

This year, the team finished fifth out of 46. Co-captain and Lakewood neighbor Zoë Gameros, who was on last year’s team, says the previous experience prepared them for a virtual format and showed how other top teams would perform. 

“It made a huge difference because we weren’t going into a new arena,” she says. 

Having been on the debate team in middle school, she auditioned for mock trial at Booker T. but didn’t make it. 

When she was accepted to the team sophomore year, Gameros learned the differences between debate and mock trial. A successful debater knows the facts about the issue at hand. But mock trial, she says, is more of a performance, with actors portraying witnesses. Gameros, a daughter of two lawyers, chose Booker T. for its theatrical opportunities and plans to study film at the University of Texas at Austin next year. Meanwhile, mock trial matched her interests.

“I started as a lawyer, and I remember thinking that it was going to be impossible to remember all the rule numbers,” she says. “And then eventually, you start catching on to everything and it becomes a bit easier.” 

Gameros says being in mock trial has made her a better public speaker and improved her confidence. 

“We’re just writing a lot of persuasive outlines and drafts and things like that,” she says. “So it translates to my skills in the classroom when it comes to writing for English, and also thinking on my feet because a lot of mock trial is improvised in the moment.” 

Mock trial teams start out the year with a set of case materials, including information about characters. It’s up to the students to parse through the information and assign roles. Lawyers interview witnesses on the stand through direct and cross examination, and they have to know the rules of evidence. 

At Booker T., there’s no mock trial class, so the team practices outside of school – two days a week before winter break and three to five days a week after the new year. This year’s team included six people and a timekeeper. Five of them are Lakewood residents: Gameros and her sister, Isabel; Claire Taylor; Jude Segrest, and Maxine Louthan. The other co-captain is Abby Chapman, and the time keeper is Erin Mansour. Abigail Matthews of FrancisMatthews LLC was the attorney adviser.

The competition was virtual this year. Gameros says she would have preferred it to be in person, but with her teammates used to acting for a camera, they were at an advantage over other schools. 

They watched the awards ceremony at Chapman’s house. When the announcer called the sixth place team, Booker T.’s attorney adviser said she didn’t think the team would place. But then they heard, “Fifth place: Texas,” and the room erupted with screams. 

“The rounds were really, really hard this year because all of the teams at nationals are amazing,” Gameros says. “I’m so proud of every single person on the team.”

Maxine Louthan 

“My favorite part about being on the mock trial team was getting to use my knowledge in the courtroom. After many hours of prepping, seeing what we had prepared and our hard work come to life was what made the experience special to me. Mock trial is a team sport and requires multiple individuals to come together and believe that each person will come through with their importance to the case. Watching my peers and feeling satisfied with my own work was very special. Mock trial gave me a place where I felt fully confident in my abilities.

“The biggest lesson I learned from mock trial this year was that you’re always capable of much more than you expect. Nationals was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life. I was a double attorney and my co-council were both seniors, making me the only freshman in the trial, so I had no room for mistakes. During the one month we had to prepare I was anxious, this was the most responsibility I had ever been given. After placing fifth in the country it made me realize how much I was capable of.”