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Six weeks after the death of teammate Angela R. Mathew ’15 in a car accident, the Harvard Mock Trial team has qualified for the national championship tournament.
Harvard Mock Trial sent the minimum number of participants to last weekend’s opening round championship series, opting to compete with six team members rather than replacing Mathew, who died in a traffic accident after a February competition.
The weekend in Greenville, S.C. was difficult, team members said. They said they struggled to replace Mathew’s award-winning ability on the witness stand and could not keep her off their minds as they discussed a case involving a fictional death. When Harvard's qualification for the national championship tournament was announced, teams from across the country stood up to recognize the group’s accomplishment.
Harvard will now advance to the final tournament of the American Mock Trial Association’s annual competition with 47 of the country’s best teams.
“It’s kind of surreal to think that we’ve gone from what was unquestionably the worst night of our lives to a really happy moment,” co-captain J. Zachary Fields ’15 said.
The team discussed the group’s future soon after co-captain Florence Y. Chen ’15 and Graham J. Wyatt ’14 were discharged from the hospital. They met with team members Fields, Kristina L. Tester ’14, Neil N. Alacha ’16, and Gene Y. Chang ’17 as a group and ultimately decided not to replace Mathew.
“We decided collectively that we wanted to continue competing for Angela without adding anyone new to our team,” Wyatt wrote in an email.
According to members, competing with the minimum number of people allowed by official rules was challenging, and not only because of the extra work.
“None of us could portray Angela’s uniquely funny, touching, and engaging characters in quite the way she could,” Chen wrote in an email.
“Angela was hands-down one of the best witnesses in the country,” Fields added.
Alacha said that modifications to the case after the regional competition made the process more difficult. While the case originally involved only theft and armed robbery, the American Mock Trial Association changed one of the armed robbery charges to felony murder.
“The element of a death in the case—that our statements and witnesses now [had] to talk about and make real through our presentation—was hard for me to grapple with at first, and was a bit triggering for me,” Alacha wrote in an email.
Alacha, who played the same role as Angela had played previously, said he thought of her most while awaiting his turn to take the stand.
“At previous tournaments, we would always sit next to each other, and she would discreetly squeeze my arm whenever something ridiculous happened in the trial—which was quite often—to prevent herself from laughing,” Alacha wrote. “That would only make me start to giggle, and a few times we received glares from judges.”
“I missed that squeeze very much last weekend,” he added.
Throughout the weekend, team members appreciated the national mock trial community’s “incredible” support, Wyatt said.
“They had a beautiful moment of silence for her, assembled a book of written memories of Angela competing, [were] incredibly accommodating, sent us countless well-wishes and words of encouragement, and cheered for us all the way through the weekend," Wyatt said.
Some competitors went so far as to tell Fields that they would like to see Harvard advance, even if it meant their own teams were eliminated.
Fields said that he was also struck by tournament attendees' standing when Harvard advanced to Nationals.
“It was kind of like Tom Brady cheering on Peyton Manning,” Fields said. “It was strange, but it meant a lot.”
In two weeks, the team will head to Orlando, Fla., for the national competition.
According to Chen, Harvard has almost always placed in the top five but has never clinched the championship.
“If Angela were here right now, she’d be yelling at us, ‘You have to win!’” Fields said.
Wyatt said that competing for Mathew means a lot to the team, regardless of the outcome.
“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and there’s nothing more worthy to be fighting for than her."
—Staff writer Maddie Sewani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @maddiesewani.
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