A group of smiling students from Centennial High School posed for photos on the stage at East High School Saturday afternoon with a sparkling trophy for their victory in the 32nd annual Super Saturday Kern County Mock Trial.
Mei Mei Chan, a senior at Centennial, was excited at coming in first.
"We've never won first place; we've never gone to state (competition)," Chan said. "We're very humbled and happy."
Chan played the part of an attorney. Chan said she's participated in the event every year of high school, but not because she plans to be a lawyer.
"What made me stick around in mock trial wasn't winning, obviously, or even all the boring legal stuff I have to learn," Chan said. "Really, it's the people. It's my team, all the relationships I've made and my teacher coach."
Centennial beat out the team from Stockdale High School, which won for the last three years. This year, Stockdale came in fourth place. Bakersfield High School was second, and Ridgeview High School placed third. Nineteen teams competed this year.
Centennial will represent Kern County at the state competition on March 22-24.
Government teacher Brett Dobson seemed a little overwhelmed at the victory as he walked off the stage. Dobson has coached the Centennial team for seven years. Before that, he coached a mock trial team for seven years at Desert Junior-Senior High School on Edwards Air Force Base.
"I knew we were really good. I've coached this 14 years total, and the teams I've coached have been second and third so many times," Dobson said. "The teams in this county are awesome, and for us to win is just overwhelming."
The biggest benefit for the students is learning teamwork, Dobson said.
"This is a team effort," he said. "Of course, thinking quickly on their feet, public speaking, confidence in front of crowds and adults questioning them. ... There's so many skills (they learn)."
The Mock Trial contest pits high school teams against each other in arguing a fictional case before real Kern County judges, with real attorneys helping to coach the teams and scoring the competition.
The students play all the roles of a typical trial: attorneys for the defense and prosecution, the defendant, the victim, witnesses, even the bailiff. They argue their cases in courtrooms at Kern County Superior Court, and although much of the facts of the case are scripted, the students have to think on their feet to raise objections and poke holes in opposing arguments.
This year's case, People v. Vega, centered on a driver, Adrian Vega, accused of a hit-and-run after allegedly striking a bicyclist with his car. The prosecution argued Vega was texting while driving, but the defense countered that Vega wasn't the driver at all. There were many complicating factors: Vega is the son of the town's mayor, and the bicyclist isn't a fan of the mayor because of the mayor's stance on bicyclists' rights. The driver of the car could have been a foreign exchange student living with the Vegas, who was wearing similar clothes the night of the accident.
Earlier in the day, before the winners were announced, Stockdale students faced off against Ridgeview students in one of the courtrooms at Kern County Superior Court. Judge Thomas S. Clark ruled in Stockdale's favor in that round. Stockdale students played the part of the defense, and Clark said that although both teams were very strong, Ridgeview didn't show the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Clark praised both teams after his verdict.
"All of you did better than a fair number of lawyers that I've seen try cases," Clark said. "I treated you and I treated this trial exactly as I would if it was seasoned lawyers. ... I know that I have every right to expect a high level of understanding (from the students)."
Harmeet Mann, a senior at Ridgeview High School, played the part of an attorney for the prosecution.
"I really like public speaking," Mann said. "It gives us a lot of practice (for) the real world, having to think on our feet."