College of Wooster’s Moot Court Team ‘Breaks’ Through at National Tournament

All seven of Wooster’s two-person teams advance to the elimination round

04 February, 2015 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — The College of Wooster made another strong showing at the American Collegiate Moot Court Association (ACMA) National Tournament at Florida International University College of Law in Miami last month as all seven of its two-person teams advanced to the "break-in" or elimination round.

Leading the way in oral argument were juniors Alexander Downs and Madeleine O'Neill, who reached the quarterfinals. They were joined by a trio of teams that advanced to the Round of 32: sophomore Marie Sheehan and junior Benjamin Taylor; sophomore Hannah Buzolits and first year Austin Maffei; and seniors Mallory Kruper and Jacob Oppler. Those making it to the elimination round were the teams of junior Abigail Helvering and senior Luke Tonat; juniors Rachel Sullivan and Audrey Steiner; and sophomore Jack Johanning and junior Ellie Bell.

In the brief-writing portion of the competition, Buzolits and Maffei placed first, recording the highest-scoring brief in the respondent competition, while Kruper and Oppler tied for fourth place with Downs and O'Neill in the Brief for the Petitioner competition.

"Again this year, I was very impressed by the improvement shown by every member of our team since September," said Mark Weaver, professor of political science and coach of Wooster's Moot Court team. "For more than 10 years, our moot court program has given our students an opportunity to develop their analytical and communication skills well beyond those of the majority of undergraduate students in the country. We are thankful for the support of the Wayne County Bar Association and the Pre-Law Advising Program, which make moot court available to every student at Wooster." Weaver also noted the important role of Janet Zahorsky, a three-time ACMA All-American who graduated from Wooster last year and served as an assistant coach this year.

As for Wooster's success from the students' point of view, Maffei attributed it to Weaver's influence and to the team's collaborative approach to training and preparation. "Dr. Weaver allows us to have control over our arguments, while guiding us to improve our work," said Maffei. "He has a way of making sure we are saying what we want to say in the clearest way, which is crucial in competition.

"As a first-year student, I relied on the upperclassman to guide me," added Maffei. "Although we compete against each other [in tournaments], we still work together in forming arguments throughout the season. It really helped to get feedback for my argument, ultimately making me feel more confident."

Beyond the competition, the value of participation in moot court is that it strengthens critical-thinking skills in a way that few other activities do, according to O'Neill. "It forces you to think outside of your comfort zone and to be able to argue complex issues from both sides," she said. "It also requires you to think on your feet when judges ask you questions about your argument in competition."

Close to 80 two-person teams competed at this year's national tournament. Morehouse College won the national championship in oral argument.