If you’re in downtown Greenville in mid-April and it seems the demographic is skewing younger than usual, it won’t be your imagination.
Nearly 500 college students from 48 schools around the country will be coming to Greenville during that time to stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and wage daylong legal battles in three of the downtown courthouses.
The students will be in town for the 2016 American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship that will take place at Furman University April 15-17. They are coming from every area of the country, and the students will be representing some of America’s finest colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Duke, Cornell, Northwestern, Chicago, Michigan and UCLA.
Furman, which has one of the nation’s top mock trial programs, is also in the field, having qualified for the national tournament 20 consecutive years.
While Furman has hosted numerous regional competitions, it’s the first time the university will have hosted the national tournament. Greenville will also be the smallest city the championship has ever visited. The last four national tournaments have taken place in Cincinnati, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis.
“We’re very excited to be hosting the national championship, which is a massive undertaking for a school of Furman’s size,” said Dr. Glen Halva-Neubauer, a professor of political science at Furman and director of the mock trial program. “We put a lot of time and effort into our mock trial program, and it’s exciting to bring all these great colleges and universities to campus so we can show off both Furman and Greenville.”
During the three-day competition, the students will assume the roles of both lawyers and witnesses as they participate in full “mock” trials in front of professional judges and attorneys. The 48 teams will be divided into two divisions of 24 teams each, and the first-place teams from each division will face off in the championship final round.
In addition to the Furman campus, the trials will be held at the Greenville Municipal Courthouse, Greenville County Courthouse and Haynsworth Federal Courthouse for the preliminary rounds of the tournament. The championship round will take place Sunday, April 17 in the Younts Conference Center at Furman.
The trials are open to the public.
More than 300 attorneys and judges from 22 different states will be serving as judges for the Bell Tower Championship. When adding students and their families to the total, Furman officials say more than 1,000 people will be involved in the tournament.
According to Halva-Neubauer, it has taken the entire Furman community to stage the national championship, from catering services to athletics to housing. But the most impressive achievement may have come from the university’s carpentry shop, which has constructed a complete courtroom that will be used in Younts. The setup, built by Tony Whitaker and Wayne Merrill, includes a judge’s bench, witness stand, 15-panel jury box, attorney tables, and a court reporter table.
“We could not have pulled off hosting a tournament of this magnitude without the assistance of everybody on campus,” Halva-Neubauer said. “And people are going to be especially impressed with the courtroom setup in Younts.”
The Furman team consists of 10 members, and it is led by Nathan Thompson ’16 of Arlington, Va., and Julia Reynolds ’17 of Concord, Mass. The team had a sterling performance at the regional competition in Columbia and backed it with another exemplary showing at the super regional in Decatur, Ga.
The team is coached by Furman alums Chris Bowden, Brad Rustin, Steven Buckingham, and Chris Schoen. This year Furman fielded four mock trial teams involving 40 students, and the university is currently ranked No. 11 in the country out of nearly 600 teams.
“These are some of our brightest students who work for hours at perfecting their craft even though they have many other responsibilities on campus as student leaders,” Halva-Neubauer said. “They are simply extraordinary.”
A complete list of the teams competing in the Bell Tower Championship is here.
For more information about the tournament, visit the Bell Tower Championship website or contact Paige Blankenship at 864-294-3547 or firstname.lastname@example.org.