Coached by Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich and Assistant United States Attorney Michael Gilfarb, the American Heritage School (Plantation) Mock Team placed Top 10 at the nationals over Mother’s Day weekend, according to program director Nikki Laurie Van Allen on Monday.
Competition was fierce and battle tested. With state champions from across the nation, plus Guam, South Korea, and the Northern Mariana Islands, American Heritage placed 6th in the national championship held before the Connecticut Superior Court, a state trial court of general jurisdiction. The highest a Florida team has placed in over 14 years, the Mock Trial Team battled a stomach virus with 5 team members intermittently sick – literally – throughout the weekend.
“From winning the state competition, placing in the top 20 at nationals, and placing in the top 5 at the Empire Invitational throughout the years, these aspiring young lawyers excelled and exceeded all expectations,” American Heritage program director Nikki Laurie Van Allen told South Florida Reporter.
The fictional Hartford case was based on the murder of a teenage girl, allegedly at the hands of a fellow teen. Loosely based on the 1975 real-life Greenwich slaying of Martha Moxley – and the eventual conviction of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel – charges were brought for murder and manslaughter. The murder weapon was a hockey stick.
“It’s an inspiration to prepare and coach these young students to be part of a profession I live and love. We are more than a team, we are family,” Eric Schwartzreich told South Florida Reporter. “I’m especially proud to have had the opportunity to coach my daughter to first a state, then national championship.”
Mock trial team members included Skyler Schwartzreich, Talha Pala, Chase Freeman, Tiffany Pages-Sanchez, Nicolas Sweet, Arturo Gonzalez, Lara Olsson, Jordyn Allen, Sloane Kapit, and Emily Irogyen. Also making the trip to Hartford were American Heritage program director Nikki Van Allen Leslie and Mike Wood, Fort Lauderdale attorney Mila Schwartzreich, Assistant United States Attorney Francis Viamontes, along with coaches Robert Thompson from Lincoln High School in Tallahassee and Amber Rumancik from Fletcher High School in Jacksonville.
“An experience unlike any other, mock trial has developed me into a better litigator and a better person,” American Heritage student Tiffany Pages Sanchez told South Florida Reporter. “The value of confidence, poise, and effective communication, this is by far the most rewarding experience of my high school years.”
“This experience has allowed me to work hands-on with real criminal defense attorneys and federal prosecutors,” offered American Heritage student Nicolas Sweet. “An invaluable learning experience which I will not soon forget.”
Beating out American Heritage School (Plantation) were only North Carolina, Michigan, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
“Mock trial has impacted me for the rest of my life,” American Heritage student Lara Olsson told South Florida Reporter. “Nothing compares to the confidence and conviction that this experience enables me to exert. The bond that I created with my teammates and coaches is for eternity.”
“Mock trial has allowed me not only the opportunity to learn how to speak and act in a real courtroom, but has also created a forum where high schoolers can project their ideas through a professional medium,” American Heritage student Chase Freeman told South Florida Reporter.