As a middle school student, Gary C. Lemel first developed his courtroom skills as a member of his school’s mock trial team. This fall, Gary gave back by serving as a volunteer attorney coach for the mock trial team at Fort Mill Middle School.

In December, the team celebrated taking home top honors at the S.C. Bar State Middle School Mock Trial Competition.

“It’s one of the few activities at this age that requires kids to think on their feet,” Gary told CN-2 News.  “Those skills never go away.”

The South Carolina Bar Law Related Education (LRE) Division sponsors the mock trial program, which is open to public, private and home school students throughout the state at the middle school and high school levels.

The program teaches students about the legal process and trial procedure. It also helps them to develop their listening, speaking, writing, reading and problem analysis skills, according to the Bar.

“All participants are encouraged to keep in mind that the goal of the program is not to win for the sake of winning, but to learn and understand the meaning of good citizenship in a democratic republic through participation in our system of law and justice,” the Bar states. “All who participate in the program are winners in this sense.”

The mock trial competitions involve a fictional case. Students receive a full load of case materials and assume the roles of attorneys and witnesses for both sides. This year’s case involved an unlawful “whisteblower” retaliation lawsuit brought under “East Carolina law.”

Gary joined Rock Hill attorney Nathan Sheldon in providing guidance as an attorney coach for the team of 14 students from Fort Mill Middle. They prepared for competition by practicing for four hours per week for two months.

“It was a pretty complicated case for middle schoolers,” Sheldon said, “but they did a good job.” After Fort Mill Middle won the Greenville Regional Competition in November, the students claimed first place among 12 teams that competed in the state competition, which was held December 1-2 at Richland County Central Court in the Decker Center in Columbia.