FORT MILL — A bounce-back season for the Fort Mill High School mock trial team ended one spot short of a state title. Instead, it was a former Yellow Jacket who helped hoist the trophy.
North Myrtle Beach edged Fort Mill in the final round of state competition March 9 in Columbia. Leading the Jackets were teaching coach Beverly DeMayo and attorney coaches Walter Dusky and Garrett Johnson, both school and team alums. Solicitor’s office attorney and fellow alum Ryan Newkirk also helped.
Another former team member is Joshua Holford, assistant solicitor in Horry County and coach for North Myrtle.
“If it had to come down to one school or the other,” Holford said, “I’m glad it was us and Fort Mill.”
This year’s case involved a fictitious contest between a news anchor who aired a story on bedbug infestation at a hotel, and the hotel owner claiming the anchor planted the bugs.
Participating for Fort Mill were Lauren Barnes, Holli Credit, Morgan Deal, Scott DeMayo, Stephen DeMayo, Devin Fiorenza, Zac Kolat, Nick Kulesa, Rhea Mathew, Hailey Morris, Jeffrey Parham, Raven Rascoe, Ivey Wambach and JaQuell Wilson.
The mock trial program is sponsored by the South Carolina Bar’s Law Related Education Division. Statewide, 50 teams competed for 12 state final slots. Nation Ford and Westminster Catawba were among those schools who fielded squads.
Last year was the first time Fort Mill didn’t make the state event in more than a decade. It was the last school called when this year’s regional winners were announced.
“As much as I’d like to say it was all coaching,” said Johnson, associate attorney at Elrod Pope Law Firm, “what stood out the most was the intensity and work ethic the kids displayed, not only at competition, but practices as well.”
Students practiced nearly eight hours a week for two months in preparation for the event. As evidenced by coaches on both of the top two teams, the mock trial program can be a way for students to see whether careers in law are for them.
“The mock trial program is a great way to get courtroom experience and helps prepare kids for a future in law,” Johnson said. “Law school offers little practical experience, preferring to teach theory in order to ensure their bar-passage rates remain as high as possible, and mock trial is one of the few ways kids can get actual hands-on experience.”
Dusky, an associate attorney at Morton & Gettys in Rock Hill, said students can benefit from the program even if they’re heading to careers outside the courtroom.
“It also gives the students an opportunity to come out of their shells and be able to logically articulate their thoughts and arguments, which is a quality needed for anything they will do in life,” he said. “It also allows the students to gain confidence in their ability to speak in public and speak on their feet.
Holford said he had no mixed feelings about taking on his old school, but has great respect for the Fort Mill coaches. He and Johnson actually spent the same four years on the Fort Mill team, from 1999 to 2003.
Holford said he knew Fort Mill would bring a strong team, but was confident in the work his students put in, too.
Fort Mill won the state title in 2007 and 2009. Combined, Fort Mill and North Myrtle Beach account for four of the past seven state titles.