Best in Texas: Americas Mock Trial Team the best in Texas, looking forward to Nationals
By Ricky J. Carrasco
Another El Paso team can now say that they are the best in the state of Texas. A couple of years ago, El Paso had the best baseball team in Texas. Now, the Americas High School Mock Trial team is, to use the team captain Zach Fields’ words, “blazing new trails” for El Paso academics. During the first week of March, the Americas team beat out 24 other teams at the state competition, having qualified for the state tournament by remaining unbeaten to El Paso teams for the last 3 years. The team now goes on to the National Championships in Phoenix, Arizona, in May, the first time an El Paso team moves on in the 32 year history of the competition.
Mock Trial is a competition where a team of students prepare and present both sides of a legal case in a courtroom setting. Students do their own research into past and current cases, write and present opening and closing statements, present in a courtroom environment and act under courtroom rules and regulations. Two opposing teams, one acting as the defense and one acting as the prosecution, are pitted against each other and are judged on presentation, persuasive arguments, and overall effectiveness in a trial setting. The students are usually judged by actual adult trial lawyers and judges.
Gabriel Palomino, father of team member Nayell Palomino who acted as a state’s witness, described the overall experience from the parent’s perspective best: “The other day, I went to jury duty. That has been my only experience with the law. These students speak with lawyers every day, deal with law and present in actual courtrooms to real lawyers and judges. I can’t imagine the stress it must cause them.”
In addition to their school sponsor, Teresa Candelaria, the team is coached by Assistant District Attorney Robert Almonte II and assistant coached by District Attorney Jaime Esparza. Almonte, who has taken the team to the state competition for the 3 years he has been with the team, said even he had his doubts at how successful the team could be, “Not because I didn’t think they were capable, but because it simply had never been done before (in El Paso) and I didn’t know how capable I could be as a coach. But after coming so close the last few years, I told the team as they were walking into their final round against a Dallas team that had beaten them before, ‘Time to make history.’” Almonte said he is confidently looking to breaking new ground at the National tournament, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we are looking for bigger and better things.”
Surprisingly, for some of the students, those bigger and better things do not include law school. Americas junior Enrique Esparza, Jaime Esparza’s son, says that he looks forward to going to UT-Austin to pursue a career in business. When asked if Mock Trial has helped him personally to a different level than having a district attorney for a father, Enrique said, “It comes down to my own motivation to do better. Mock trial helped me think on my feet, how to compensate for my mistakes.”
Joshua Monarez has already been accepted to UT-Austin and plans to study business. “When I came in to Americas, I was shy. Mock Trial helped me to open up and be able to talk to in front of people.” Nayell Palomino plans to go to the University of Chicago and study science. Nayell was proud that so many parents went to support them in Dallas. “I think we intimidated some schools because we were always followed by our entourage of more than 15 parents, quietly rooting for us throughout the entire competition.”
Dr. Xavier de la Torre, Socorro ISD Superintendent also applauded the team’s accomplishments. “I am amazed by their poise and their character. I just want them to know that we couldn’t be prouder.”
The team receives their case for Nationals in April and only has a few weeks to do all their research, prepare those cases, and get ready to blaze those trails. If you would like more information or would like to help sponsor their trip to Phoenix as the Americas Mock Trial team pursues a national championship, please call Debbie Robles, Americas Student Activities Director at 937-2832.