The Lewiston High School Mock Trial Team defeated Cape Elizabeth High School in the state final competition on Dec. 8 at the Capitol Judicial Center in Augusta. Coaches and students, from left, are: Amy Dieterich, Michelle Crowley, Hayley Aloegnikou, Lilly Beaulieu, Sarah Mack, Adry Viles, Isabella Caldeira, Enzo Giampaolo, Gabby Thomas, Ethan Rinko, Olivia Crowley, Kaiya Poulin, Taylor Jean, Zara Bimbi, Ron Lebel, Victoria Mpaka, Andrew Boulanger, Holly Aloegnikou, Ava Golder and Paul Dionne. Submitted photo

The way Joan Macri sees it, it comes down to confidence. The Lewiston High School Mock Trial Team has earned a lot of it lately and it has paid big dividends. 

“Honestly,” says Macri, a former teacher and coach of both Debate and Mock Trial Teams, “there’s no stopping us.” 

Attorney and volunteer coach Ron Lebel talks about the “esprit de corps” at work on the team; that sense of pride, fellowship and loyalty among the Mock Trial Team members. 

For Michelle Crowley, head coach of the team, it’s all about drive. The drive, the focus and an unassailable work ethic possessed by the students who make up the Mock Trial Team. 

“We have a really competitive nature,” Crowley says, “and a scrappy spirit.” 

The students themselves have lots to say about their recent successes, too, but first we need to bring you up to speed on why so many people are buzzing about this team’s achievements. 


On Dec. 8, the Lewiston High School team won the mock trial state finals, defeating the vaunted squad from Cape Elizabeth.

That win in itself was no easy feat, according to those in the know. The team from Cape Elizabeth is considered among just a few Maine schools that make up a kind of mock trial elite. Those teams are historically considered next to unbeatable. 

Hayley Aloegnikou takes a picture to celebrate the Mock Trial Team’s state championship win. Submitted photo

Not that the Lewiston team is anybody’s doormat — this year’s was the second consecutive state championship for the team and its third championship in six years. To get where they are now — preparing to go to the national championship in May — the team also had to get by some other heavy hitters in the preliminary rounds. They had a lot to face, and yet in each round in which they competed, the Lewiston team won unanimously. 

When one considers the amount of preparation, study, focus and energy required to succeed so mightily in such a dense and nebulous realm as law, it’s staggering. 

But just what is a mock trial, anyway, and why is Lewiston’s big success cause for such vigorous celebration?



Lebel, the lawyer, explains it this way: 

“Mock trial is an academic competition in which student competitors take on the roles of attorneys and witnesses in the conduct of a hypothetical criminal trial. The students are required to learn the law as well as the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence that govern actual trials in our court system. The students prepare and deliver the direct and cross examinations of witnesses. Witnesses are required to master the facts of the case and testify effectively and persuasively. “It is very hard work,” Lebel says, “intellectually demanding and requires extraordinary study and preparation.” 

Anyone who has seen even a single episode of “Law & Order” knows how intense a court trial can be, and it was that kind of atmosphere in which this Mock Trial Team competed.

The fictional case these kids dove into this year was a criminal matter. In the State of Maine vs. Sammy Brewster, the defendant (portrayed by Lewiston High School sophomore Sara Bimbi) has been charged for the crimes of manslaughter and furnishing alcohol to a minor. 

For the mock trial competition, some students played the roles of witnesses. Others portrayed attorneys, tasked with preparing opening and closing arguments as well as engaging in the cross-examining of witnesses. The Mock Trial Team had to prepare both sides of the case. The trials themselves were presented in front of real Maine judges. 

Just keep picturing “Law & Order,” and you’ll get a sense of what these students were up against.


Facing Casco Bay High School of Portland and later teams from Brunswick High and Bonney Eagle High School in Standish, the Lewiston team just kept winning.

At one point, they found themselves waiting to hear who they would face for the state championship. Ava Golder, a student on the Mock Trial Team and writer for the school paper Indigo Ink, describes the mood of the team when they found out they would be facing the mock trial powerhouse from Cape Elizabeth.

Some of the Lewiston High School Mock Trial Team coaches stand last Tuesday, Jan, 9, for a photo in Lewiston’s City Hall, where they were honored by the City Council. From left are Paul Dionne, Michelle Crowley, Joan Macri and Andrew Boulanger. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“In preparation for this, we spent almost every day together, practicing for hours,” Golder writes. “The day of the state competition soon came and everyone was huddling into the aspirations lab in their fancy suits. We had to be at the courtroom before 9 a.m., and because it was in Augusta, we had an early morning. Although we were confident, the majority of our team had never even seen Cape Elizabeth and as a result were nervous. After the trial finished we found out the winners, everyone was holding their breath. They announced Lewiston High School won. We’re now going to Delaware for nationals in May.” 

In the aftermath of this most impressive state win, Lebel made an observation in a guest column for the Sun Journal. 

The Lewiston Mock Trial Team shouldn’t be this good, he opined. And yet they are. 

“Based on ratings of school ‘quality,’ Lewiston should not be able to academically compete with schools such as Cape Elizabeth and Brunswick,” Lebel wrote. “Cape Elizabeth is universally rated as one of the best three high schools in Maine. Brunswick High School is consistently rated in the top 10. Lewiston is rated outside the top 50. Based on socio-economic factors, Lewiston students should not be able to beat students from Cape Elizabeth or Brunswick.” 


Lebel went on to list the per capita income and poverty rates for each of the communities listed above and, of course, Lewiston came out at the bottom. 

“How is it,” Lebel wanted to know, “that Lewiston teams have become so formidable in a statewide academic competition, consistently defeating teams from allegedly ‘superior’ schools? How can Lewiston students overcome the advantages enjoyed by students from much wealthier communities whose families have far greater educational attainment?” 

The answer to all that, according to Lebel, is simplicity itself.

“What these statistics miss,” he writes, “are the qualities that count: intellect, drive and work ethic. Lewiston students are every bit as bright as kids from wealthier communities and they work harder. Simple, really.” 

Macri isn’t as surprised. “I don’t think they overachieved,” she says of the team’s incredible successes. “I think they are just that good.” 

She does see Lebel’s point, though. When one thinks about achievements in high school trial performance, Lewiston may not be the first city that comes to mind. 


“Lewiston is gritty and determined and has a work ethic that won’t quit,” she says, “but it’s not a polished kind of town.” 

Crowley, the head coach, points out that many of the students on her Mock Trial Team face “a whole bunch of different scenarios that make it more challenging for a kid to have an easy time academically.” 

Team members come from a broad range of backgrounds, socially, economically and culturally. They come from single- and two-parent homes. They come from long-standing Lewiston families and from immigrant families much newer to the area. Few team members have parents with backgrounds in law.

And yet, to some, the fact that these kids come from such a range of backgrounds is what has made them as great as they are. Macri, a former debate coach who later convinced Crowley to come work with the Mock Trial Team when it started in 1995, certainly thinks so. 

“There’s that old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” she says. “That’s what Michelle has created. She’s been able to take a disparate group of kids — freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, boys, girls, nerds, geeks, artists, jocks — and have them work together as a team.” 



It also didn’t hurt that so many people were invested in Lewiston’s Mock Trial Team. A whole bunch of former members of the program came back to help the team, Macri included. Attorneys like Lebel, Paul Dionne and others jumped in to lend their expertise, and by the time all was said and done, the team had something like nine coaches working with the students. 

“The kids not only profit from that guidance,” says Lebel, one of three team coaches affiliated with the Lewiston firm Skelton Taintor & Abbott, “I think they feel that support on a visceral level and it motivates them to excel.”

They had a great coach and several volunteers working to support the team. It was a good start, but ultimately, true success depended not on the men and women on the sidelines, but on the minds and spirits of those who would be competing.

“The most dedicated leadership, the most brilliant coaches and the most fervent alumni won’t make a program this successful without the best kids,” Lebel says. “They are the ones that have to perform in the competition, after all, and they are the ones scoring the points.” 

The kids themselves are more sanguine about the matter of their achievements. They’re much less inclined to talk about societal factors like poverty rates or per capita incomes. 

Ethan Rinko, a team captain in his third and final year on the Mock Trial Team, has an easy answer to the question of why this team is so good: Winning, he says, is much better than losing, and this team has always been willing to do whatever necessary to win. 


“After our loss to Cape Elizabeth by one vote (my) sophomore year, it fueled our drive to stop at nothing to win, and from that point we have not lost,” Rinko says. “For me and a lot of us, there were days when we would have mock trial class, then have practice after school, and then would work on it when we got home. 

“Mock trial is more than just a team but a family,” Rinko says. “We all help each other even if that means calling and texting each other from home. Our team is as good as our weakest link and what made our team excel was how good each individual member was. We don’t have a star like other teams. We’re all equally as good.” 

And there’s that work ethic that everyone talks about. In spite of the incredibly busy lives of teenagers, the students on this team were always at work honing the material at hand before a competition, Rinko says. Always. No matter what.

“There was a time I was on my way to a college tour with my mom and reviewing rules of evidence in the car while on the phone helping my teammates out,” he says. “Our team was practicing every day — I know of people who would record their scripts and replay them in the shower and while driving. Our entire team had our parts memorized and no other team came close to our talent or our hard work. That shows how important mock trial was to us. Not just the students but all of the coaches who would leave their jobs as lawyers or college students to come and help us. I’ve learned so much about law by working with these highly experienced coaches. . . . We’d be lost without them.” 

Olivia Crowley, a team captain also in her third year on the team, has been around mock trial her entire life. Her mother, Michelle, the head coach, has been involved for decades and so Olivia has grown up going to practices and competitions even before she was on the team. 

Asked why the Mock Trial Team is as good as it is, Olivia describes that dream team of support with which they have been blessed. 


“The LHS team has always been strong in my opinion,” she says, “but it was particularly strong this year. The immense support we had this year was a game changer. We had an incredible group of coaches, attorneys, former members, and college students supporting us every step of the way. I think everyone on the team was also extremely determined to defend our title, and that dedication put us on a different level then in past years.” 

Lewiston High School Mock Trial Team members celebrate following the state championship win. Submitted photo


Like others, Olivia speaks of that indefinable “something” that made this year’s team gel in such a grand way. And it wasn’t just the team veterans pulling together, it was the new kids on the block, as well. 

“I think what makes our team special is that we all truly look out for each other,” she says. “No matter what, you have someone supporting you and challenging you to do the absolute best you can. I’m very proud of all of the members of the LHS Mock Trial Team, but I’m particularly proud of the people who stepped up this year. We had several newcomers, and they really developed and grew into assets for the team.” 

Many have spoken at length about the diversity on the Mock Trial Team. There are plenty of jocks on the squad, even if jocks are not historically associated with heady matters such a court trial. 

But some say their presence has been a big factor in the recent successes of the team. Who likes to win more than somebody who plays baseball, basketball or football before big crowds?


“One thing I believe that is very unique about the Lewiston Mock Trial Team is the fact that we have a lot of athletes,” says another team captain, Gabriella Thomas. “This fosters a very competitive environment and expecting a lot from each other.” 

And yet, court trial is not baseball, hockey or basketball. Wanting to win alone is not enough to make it happen. The team had to be sharp in every aspect of their preparation and presentation. That doesn’t happen through simple will and a powerful desire to win. These kids had to make it happen.

“Our time management skills, collaborative skills, and work ethic are second to none,” Thomas says. “These skills have resulted in Lewiston constantly being in the finals and winning or becoming a close second. In my three years on the team, we have gone to states every year and lost once. A lot of that success has come from our competitive nature, but it has also come from our non-athletes who spend even more time practicing their lines, memorizing the rules of evidence, and mastering the material. They want to see results just as bad.” 

According to Macri, the Lewiston Mock Trial Teams have always been strong. They could go deep with the law. What helped make this year’s team so special is that the more they won, the more confident they became. With the help of the coaches, they began to believe in themselves and that self-assuredness showed when it mattered the most. 

“We’ve gotten the kids to focus on presentation. Things like how you carry yourself,” Macri says. “Confidence — we were always competent but not always confident.” 

That confidence certainly got a boost by the support the team gets from the community at large, according to coach Crowley. When it’s go-time and the Lewiston Mock Trial Team is making its case, it’s a big event. There are no pompoms or cowbells because this is a courthouse and nobody wants to draw a whack from the judge’s gavel, but the enthusiasm and support is there nonetheless. 


“It does have a lot of energy,” Crowley says. “We fill the court room with parents and families and then friends show up. It’s really kind of neat.” 

Neat, sure, but it’s hard work being on a Mock Trial Team. For some, like this writer, just hearing about how much time and effort these students have to put into it is exhausting. 

But according to those who have participated in the past, all that intensity and hard work pays off. Pays off big. 

Hunter Steele was a member of the team when it won the state championship in 2018. He later graduated and went on to study at Bowdoin College, but he insists on one important fact: The mock trial experience in particular helped get him where he wanted to go. 

His relationship with his teammates and coaches, he says, “were just so instrumental in moving me forward, and in building traits that I’ve applied to the rest of my life.” 

Steele has continued to participate in mock trial at Bowdoin. In fact, he became the team captain. He learned so much at the college level, he says, that he wishes he knew when he was back on the high school team. And with that in mind, he decided to come back to Lewiston High and share his experiences and newfound insights with the current team. It was his way of giving back to this academic program that has benefited him so greatly. 


“The program is just awesome,” Steele says. “All the coaches and all the competitors are so dedicated. … It’s just always fun to be around that environment.” 


Come May, the Lewiston Mock Trial Team will be headed to the nationals in Delaware. It’s a big event. Really big.

Crowley has vivid memories of her own experience in the nationals. She also remembers that the Lewiston teams back then had to scrap and struggle to get there. In those days, the competition was largely dominated by Hampden Academy and it seemed like Lewiston could never get past them. 

“Year after year, they were winning and going to nationals. Nobody could catch them,” Crowley says. “It’s like we were playing checkers and they were playing chess. We just started clawing our way up, and then we won it back in 2018. We went to nationals in 2019. It was a great feeling. And then every successive year up until last year, we lost in the state finals by a point. It was frustrating. And then we won again last year and we won this year.” 

For the students on this year’s team, the trip to Delaware will be a wild experience. 


“Many of the students have never left the state,” Crowley says. “Many have never flown and a bunch have never been in a hotel room.” 

How Lewiston’s team will do in the nationals is anybody’s guess, yet with the consistency of success they’ve had lately, a lot of people have high hopes. 

And then there’s the more distant future to think about. 

Rinko, now on his way to study political science at Bowdoin College, believes this year’s Mock Trial Team in Lewiston is the beginning of what may become a dynasty. Where schools like Cape Elizabeth and Hampden Academy instilled fear in mock trial circles for years, it may be Lewiston High School’s turn to inspire that kind dread. As Macri pointed out in the beginning, the Lewiston team is just that good.

“This is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Rinko says. “It’s just the hard work everyone puts in and how smart they are. We also have a lot of younger people on the team, so I think they’re going to see the same results next year.” 

Anyone wishing to help with travel expenses to the national competition can send donations to Lewiston High School in care of the LHS Mock Trial Team.

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