Tiverton High School’s mock trial team has already accomplished great things this school year, but they have aspirations of more. The team is undefeated through three competitions, having …
Tiverton High School’s mock trial team has already accomplished great things this school year, but they have aspirations of more. The team is undefeated through three competitions, having beaten Middletown High School, Barrington High School, and Bishop Hendricken.
Now, THS seniors Kylie Azevedo, Samuel Farley, Benjamin Sowa, Thomas Costa, and the rest of the team are optimistic about their next challenge — trying to win a championship — and passionate about the team. As Thomas stated on behalf of his team members, this program simply means “everything.”
This year’s team is unique, as many of its leaders have worked together for years. Tiverton’s mock trial program begins in the sixth-grade, which is when several of this year’s seniors began participating, seven years ago. That was also the time when mock trial returned to THS after a lengthy absence, under the leadership of two new coaches, Christine Costa and Jeffrey Sowa (see separate story). Today they are still coaches, and their children are seniors with seven years of experience.
A lawyer himself, Sowa has a strong passion for this work, as his late father was the original founder of the mock trial program in the state of Rhode Island. The mock trial championship trophy, The Sowa Cup, is named after the eldest Sowa.
Looking ahead to the playoffs, Coach Sowa stressed how special this particular experience is for him. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to me, as both a father and a son, to be involved in competing for a trophy named after my father. That’s a really special thing that my son, as a senior in high school, has the chance to compete for that trophy. To go undefeated and be in the position we’re in … You just want to finish it out. It’s definitely a quest for the Sowa Cup here.”
When asked about the team’s recent successes, the students and staff compared the victories to stories of “David and Goliath” or “The Little Engine That Could.” Samuel said, “Ever since I’ve been on the team, and the same goes for the one year I wasn’t, we’ve always had this spirit that we’re gonna go up against anyone, and even if we don’t win, we’re gonna try our darndest.”
Benjamin said, “Our recent victories were very important for people to understand mock trial as a whole. Everyone understands basketball, football, everything, but this is really separate from any other realm of competition. It’s a really big thing. [Bishop Hendricken] is a boys-only private school, and they’re D-1 at everything, and little Tiverton took them down.”
His father, Jeffrey Sowa, recounted the wins in a similar fashion: “To have this small town be that successful up against the wealthiest programs in the state is a great reflection of the student body.”
Benjamin and Thomas, who joined the first year mock trial was reinstated, had been close friends prior. It was partly why Thomas took part to begin with. “I’ve really started to find my passion for this stuff and everything I’ve learned from it,” Thomas said.
Benjamin’s interest was strongly influenced by the fact that both of his parents are lawyers, which led him to develop an interest of his own within the field. A year later, as seventh-graders, Kylie and Samuel began their journeys as part of the team. Kylie said she had friends who loved it, “so I thought I’d give it a try.” She has since developed a passion for the program.
Samuel shared: “I’ve always been fascinated by history, and the two go hand in hand.” A former student of Mrs. Costa, he was comforted by the familiarity of the staff, and decided to join.
Learning from the law
Though many students use this program as a stepping stone toward the legal field, that isn’t everyone’s pathway. The students and staff shared that many skills gained along the way are valuable in all walks of life. As Kylie, who is not pursuing law as a profession, said, “It’s great for everyone.” She identified public speaking as a key skill, as well as “thinking on your feet, and being able to use information at the right time.”
Benjamin both echoed thOse thoughts and discussed the importance of critical thinking. Additionally, Samuel touched upon advocacy, as well as “being able to examine storylines, discrepancies, and the problems within them.”
Coaches Sowa and Costa shared that students in the program ultimately develop both confidence and presentation skills. Sowa said, “Preparation is the most critical thing in litigation in general, but when you’re dealing with students, having confidence to deliver on that presentation is critical. That’s where we’ve been fortunate. We have some extremely intelligent, hardworking students. At 16 or 17 years old, it’s not the easiest thing.”
The value of teamwork
Every member of the mock trial program who spoke said teamwork is the most important and impactful skill to embrace. Samuel said, “Mock trial really does rely on teamwork. You have to put a lot of trust into your teammates and also be willing and able to help them.”
Thomas said, “It’s really great to pick up new information. And to give that information to someone else can really help the team. It’s always best to put the team in the best position and to shape up everyone’s role rather than focusing only on your own.”
Kylie pointed out that, “At the end of the day, the decision is made as a team.”
Together, this team is, as their coaches put it, “relentless.”
Julia Stearly is a student at the Met School in Newport and an intern with the Sakonnet Times.