UMBC Mock Trial continues to reach new heights at a national level, even with COVID-19 impacting the competition season. Sydney Gaskins ’22, political science, finished as a runner-up in the final round of the national Trial by Combat (TBC), a head-to-head individual mock trial championship hosted this summer by the UCLA School of Law and Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law.
Gaskins competed virtually against fifteen graduating seniors from the most successful mock trial teams across the country, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. She was the only junior to participate this year and among the first underrepresented women to compete in the championship’s history.
The hosts of Trial by Combat selected the sixteen contenders out of hundreds of applicants. “Sydney continues to break barriers in Mock Trial and specifically in Trial by Combat,” shares Ben Garmoe ’13, political science, a litigation attorney in Baltimore. Nine years ago he co-founded the intellectual sports team with Travis Bell ’14, psychology and political science, now a public defender in Alabama.
Garmoe notes, “She defeated some of the best competitors in the country to get to the final round.”
A formidable opponent
“TBC 2020 was a special and unique experience,” shares Gaskins. She says she has struggled with not being able to interact with the people she cares about because of COVID-19. “The virtual tournament was not only a much needed opportunity to reconnect, but to also make my team proud.”
Gaskins, the UMBC Mock Trial president, has a long history as a formidable opponent in her three years with the team. This year, in addition to her TBC award, she has received two Outstanding Attorney Awards and three All-National Attorney Awards. In 2019 she earned ten awards, including two All-National Attorney Awards from the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS). Then she helped the team place eighth at the American Mock Trial Association National Championship Tournament—the team’s second trip to nationals.
At the 2019 national competition, Gaskins received an All-American Attorney Award, the highest individual honor in collegiate mock trial. Her success earned her an invitation to compete at last year’s Trial by Combat, and solidified her status as one of the top college mock trial competitors in the U.S.
TBC requires students to prepare quickly for a trial and under great pressure, giving them just 24 hours between receiving the case and arguing it. Ethan Hudson ’21, English, and Garmoe were Gaskins’s support team.
Hudson helped develop the case theory and served as the “second chair” in the competition. This role is a (silent) co-counsel who is in charge of displaying exhibits and demonstrative aids, and who is permitted to communicate with the counsel. He was also responsible for managing all of Gaskins’s technology during each trial.
Together, the trio created a rigorous trial strategy for all the roles Gaskins had to perform: defense, prosecutor, and as a witness for each side. Gaskins performed each role once during the four preliminary trials, with the attorney performance carrying the most weight in scoring. Four students continued to the semi-finals as attorneys, and only two advanced to the championship trial. Gaskins was one of those final two.
A meaningful opportunity
Gaskins and Hudson’s experience as teammates dates back to their high school years as members of the Franklin High School Mock Trial team. Both joined the UMBC team their first year. They were set to lead UMBC’s team this spring at the 2020 National Championship Tournament before the rest of the season was cancelled due to COVID-19. This year marked the third time UMBC has qualified for the nationals in the last four years.
“This tournament was special for two reasons. It was my last opportunity to compete alongside Ethan, my friend and teammate,” explains Gaskins, who plans to apply to top J.D and MBA programs in the spring. “And it was also an opportunity to once again show everyone who Sydney Gaskins is.”
Banner image: Gaskins defending her case at a Mock Trial competition. All photos are courtesy of UMBC Mock Trial.