Bellarmine mock trial team wins national championship

April 12, 1999

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For the Bellarmine College Mock Trial Team, the fifth time is a charm. Five of the last 12 years, the team has competed in the national championship trial, and the first four times they finished as the runner-up. This year, however, Bellarmine won the national championship.

In April, Bellarmine competed in the American Mock Trial Association's National Championship, defeating South Carolina-Spartansburg, Furman, Texas, and Stanford before knocking off Rhodes College in the finals. This year marked the third time that Bellarmine and Rhodes have competed in the championship trial.

Bellarmine actually had two teams competing: an "older" team (national champions) and a "younger" team. The coaching staff was just as proud of the younger team, as they split the ballot in a face-to-face meeting with Harvard and finished in a tie for fifth in the 64-team field. In fact, after three rounds only eight schools still had a chance to win the title and two of the eight were Bellarmine teams.

As with Bellarmine's runner-up finishes (1987, 1991, 1994, and 1998), Coach James R. Wagoner said the team's success was a total team effort, noting the younger team's prowess made the older team better and visa versa. Wagoner, a partner in the Louisville law firm Williams and Wagoner, summed up Bellarmine's performance in three words: "They were flawless," he said. In fact, the coach from Rhodes came over to offer congratulations before the final announcement was made.

In mock trial competition, teams face each other in a trial where team members serve as attorneys and witnesses. Each team must come prepared to defend or prosecute. The teams are judged by professional attorneys who cast ballots for the team that best presents its case. Two ballots are cast in each round. The tournament featured two divisions with four rounds the teams with the best records continue to the "championship trial." Bellarmine advanced with a 7-0-1 record.

Each year the American Mock Trial Association issues the same court case to all colleges fielding a mock trial team. That case is used in all official competitions, including the national finals. This year, the teams argued a product liability case in which a fuel gauge manufacturer is blamed for a plane crash.

Individually, all members of the older team were named All-Americans. They are William Armstrong, Amanda Bennett, Jason Butler, Nathaniel Cadle, Ryane Conroy, and Vanessa Cox. Heather Jackson, from the "younger" team earned a top three attorney award, earning a perfect score of "20" during the competition. She was joined in that select group by Conroy and Cox from the older squad. Two other Bellarmine students-Armstrong and Christi Spurlock-were named as top five witnesses. Other team members include John Balenovich, David Chamberlain, Cheryl Danner, Matt Rich, and Sarah Wimsatt.

Wagoner shares coaching responsibilities with his wife Ruth Wagoner, a Bellarmine professor of communications, and Jason Cooper. All three coaches are Bellarmine alumni. They all also earned special recognition. James Wagoner earned the Neal Smith Award, given by his peers for outstanding service to the AMTA and the legal profession outside of mock trial. He, along with Ruth Wagoner and Cooper, won the Chief Justice W. W. Reynoldson Award for the team's outstanding performance last year.

Other schools competing for the title included Yale, Columbia, Cornell, UCLA, Duke, Amherst, Notre Dame, Brown, Purdue, Georgia Tech, and Princeton.


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