Making a case

Last weekend, St. John’s hosted the Atlantic Coast Regional Competition of the National Intercollegiate Mock Trial Tournament. The Competition, which had opening ceremonies on Friday and continued through Sunday, brought tough opponents for the University, including Columbia, Fordham, Dartmouth, Amherst, and Princeton. St. John’s entered two squads, one featuring more seasoned competitors and a second “rookie” team, into the tournament.

Sophomore Kudakwashe Chibanda was the squad captain for Squad A while sophomore Ronald Sylvestre captained Squad B. The teams were guided by coaches Professor Bernard G. Helldorfer and Professor Oscar Holt. Eon Smith, Esq. and Kareem Vessup, Esq., both alumni of the St. John’s School of Law, were the assistant coaches of the teams.

The stakes were high for the St. John’s teams, with the first and second place teams receiving bids to compete in the National Championship Tournament in St. Petersburg FL, and three runners up receiving bids to the intermediate tournaments hosted by Northwestern University and Hamline University.

The University’s A squad was able to secure a bid for the intermediate tournament hosted by Minnesota’s Hamline by placing 11th out of the 24 teams in the competition, while the B squad was close behind in 12th place.

“We made St. John’s proud on our home campus,” said junior team-member Ben Blum. “And we’ll continue to make the University proud in Minnesota.

“It was five months of hard work, and it was well worth it,” he continued.

The invitational was second competition of the season for St. John’s mock trial. The team previously placed 15th in the seventy-team field at the Yale Pre-Season Invitational Tournament in New Haven, Conn.

Calamusa did not find the University’s success in the most recent tournament surprising. Having joined the mock trial club in the fall semester, he was part of the Squad B team.

According to Calamusa, the mock trial organization is one that requires dedication and serious work ethic. For a student to earn a spot on the Mock Trial team, they have to review and present a case to the coaches. When talking about his experience with the mock trial tournament, Calamusa explains that it has been a valuable learning experience for him.
“It’s not just about winning,” he said. “It’s about growing as a person, that’s the most important aspect of it.”

Calamusa also said that the organization has a familiar feel and that his teammates are as close to him as his own family. He talks with deep admiration about his coaches, stating that the men “come out of their own time to help the team.”

For Calamusa, mock trial celebrates St. John’s mission statement because it is about using the legal system to find a common good and promotes charity.

“It is about alumni giving back, and [for students] to develop the skills that [they] can one day hand down to people who are less fortunate,” he said. “It is a place that makes students into leaders.”

Holt said that he believes the teams will continue to improve and, hopefully, achieve more success at their next tournament.
“We may not always win,” he said, “but we’ll never lose.”