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Putting on a Good Show

Approximately 500 students from 48 schools competed in the championship.

The Furman mock trial team didn’t fulfill its dream of winning the American Mock Trial Association national championship over the weekend, but in pretty much every other way the University’s inaugural foray into hosting the huge event was a rousing success.

Yale University, the 2015 runner-up, defeated the University of Virginia on Sunday evening in the final round of the Bell Tower Championship at the Younts Conference Center to capture its first national title. The Bulldogs and Cavaliers emerged from a pair of 24-team divisions that began competing on Friday, but neither knew they had made the title match until it was announced at the awards ceremony at Timmons Arena on Sunday afternoon.

Yale’s Allison Durkin, a senior from Pittston City, Pa., said the elation at learning she and her teammates had advanced was quickly replaced by a determination to not come up short again a year after coming in second to Harvard.

“We were just sitting there holding our breath the whole time,” she said. “Last year we went undefeated before the final round, and that took our breath away. This year we had this sense that it wasn’t enough just to get there. We really wanted to win the whole thing.”

Furman, competing in its 20th consecutive national tournament, earned honorable mention honors after finishing 11th in its division. The Paladins got off to a hot start before running into trouble on Saturday afternoon.

“We won all of our ballots against Patrick Henry College, so we were 5-0 on Friday night. Then we had another really strong round on Saturday morning against George Washington. We won four out of the five ballots there,” said Furman team director and tournament organizer Glen Halva-Neubauer, Ph.D.  “We were really rockin’ and rollin’ and we just got blitzed, 0-5, against Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon, and then we won one out of four against UVA on Sunday morning.”

The Paladins could have knocked Virginia out of the final with a stronger performance, but as it was they finished 10-10 on their 20 ballots. Georgia Tech took third overall.

“We got an honorable mention, which I’m very proud of,” Halva-Neubauer said. “I think the students fought their hearts out, but they had two really spectacular teams (in their way).”

Ever since Furman was awarded the tournament last year, Halva-Neubauer has worked feverishly to land sponsors, raise money, secure judges and organize the daunting logistics required to host approximately 500 student competitors from 48 schools in the smallest city to ever serve as the event’s home. All total, more than a thousand people descended on Greenville, and perhaps the highest hurdle was scheduling the use of multiple sites for the mock trials because nowhere in Greenville has enough courthouses, 24, under one roof.

Teams moved between the Greenville County, the Greenville Municipal and the Haynsworth Federal courthouses as well as the Furman campus in “courtrooms” constructed by Tony Whitaker and Wayne Merrill of the University carpentry shop.

“There aren’t 24 courtrooms in Greenville County, period. We used every courtroom we could get our hands on that wasn’t Lilliputian sized. So we had to come to campus if we were going to host this,” Halva-Neubauer said.

Yale’s Durkin said things went off without a hitch.

“The logistics were very well planned out and very well executed, so having multiple sites was no issue at all,” she said. “We had one round on Furman’s campus where the backdrop was this beautiful lake. I’ve run tournaments here at Yale, and I understand how difficult it is to make sure things are running that smoothly … Knowing the Furman program and their reputation for running great tournaments, I was expecting it to be run well and I wasn’t disappointed.”

Halva-Neubauer also managed to land a record number of volunteer judges, approximately 300 that allowed for five per round, and Durkin thinks that added a new level of legitimacy to the scoring.

“That’s never been done before so far as I know. Usually the most that you’ll see is three judges per round, but you’re only guaranteed two judges per round at any tournament. So to have five judges judging what is a subjective activity gives you a lot more confidence that you have the right outcome,” she said. “It gives you more confidence that if you put on a good performance, people will know.”

The tournament’s Twitter feed, @BellTowerChamp, is filled with compliments and expressions of gratitude, and plenty of people enjoyed what was often their first visit to the area.

When Durkin was asked if she’d ever been to the area, she said, “No, I never had, and I was really struck by both Greenville and Furman.  Greenville was just a really fun place, and Furman was absolutely beautiful. The tournament overall was incredible. It was wonderfully run.”

That’s the reaction Halva-Neubauer was hoping for when he started the long journey to host. For all of his work, however, he said it never would have been possible without the support of the entire campus.

“There’s no university that has ever been the host for this event that has embraced it as Furman did. If Furman hadn’t bought into the idea that this was an important activity, that these students are rock stars and deserve a rock-star kind of event to showcase their amazing talents and get the community involved, we couldn’t have done it,” Halva-Neubauer said. “These kids work as hard as college athletes, but they get virtually no recognition for their efforts, and I think that’s what Furman’s sponsorship of this did.”

For more on Furman mock trial, click here.

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