Members of the New Paltz High School Mock Trial Team and adviser Albert Cook pose with the Honorable Anthony McGinty at the Ulster County Courthouse following their county championship win last week. (photo by Andrew Satter )

The undefeated New Paltz High School Mock Trial Team flexed its intellectual muscle again last week, winning the county championship in a meet held at the Ulster County Courthouse in Kingston. The team defeated Rondout Valley High School and will now go on to the regional contest to be held in Rockland County this Saturday, April 28.

“I felt really proud,” said team captain Sadie Moran. “This is my fourth year on the team and it’s the first time we’ve won Counties. I’m proud of our younger members and I’m also proud of our seniors. We now have a chance to go to Regionals.”

The team is comprised of students from all high school grade levels and meets several times a week from October through March or April to prepare for competition. Their adviser is social studies teacher Albert Cook, with New Paltz attorney Jon Simonson serving as legal consultant. According to Cook, the team was originally conceived of by then-social studies teacher Barbara Clinton, who encouraged colleague Marge Ecton to follow through on the idea when she moved on to an administrative position. Cook took it over in 2000 after Ecton retired.

“Kingston was by far the most dominant team of our area, and to this date they are the only team in Ulster County to ever make the state tournament,” he recalled. “In 2004 our team pulled off a major upset and defeated Kingston in the county semifinals, but lost to Ellenville in the championship round. The next year we defeated Ellenville and went on to win Counties each year until 2008.”

Each year, teams throughout the state are given a specific case to work on, establishing arguments, rehearsing witnesses, citing case law and writing opening and closing statements. This year’s case involved an assault, a rap song and a tire iron.

During the regional meet, the New Paltz team will face competitors from Rockland, Westchester, Orange, Putnam and Dutchess counties. “I feel good,” said Moran about the team’s chances. “I don’t really know what to expect, but Mr. Cook has been preparing us a lot; he’s been preparing us for the past four years. I think we have a shot at really doing well.”

While team participants learn a number of skills for the competition, Moran noted that these transfer to other areas as well. “It’s made me a lot more comfortable with my opinions,” she said. “I’ve learned different skills that have helped me in other parts of my life. I know how to speak well, how to think well and how to consider all sides of a situation before making a snap judgment. I think it’s developed that for everybody on the team.”

Moran cites Cook’s influence as being integral to the team’s success. “Mr. Cook has been a huge influence on the team,” she emphasized. “He taught me a lot and has taught everyone a lot and will continue to teach the younger members as they go along with it. I think we owe everything to Mr. Cook.”

For his part, Cook pointed out, “Many people think I do such a wonderful job with these students, but the truth is I’m working with some of the best that our school has to offer year after year. That can make you look good!” ++