MIDDLE TOWNSHIP - Middle Township won New Jersey's mock trial competition on Thursday in a performance before state Supreme Court Justice Stuart J. Rabner.
Middle bested a field of more than 250 teams in this year's competition before defeating last year's state champs, West Morris Mendham High School from Morris County.
The competition took place at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick in front of Rabner and Superior Court Judge Marilyn C. Clark. The trial marked the first time in 29 years that a sitting Supreme Court judge participated.
"My team performed at their best," the team's coach Martina Trapani said. "What a wonderful experience. I can't believe how blessed I am to have students who are so dedicated and give up so much of their time."
The team is composed of Maddie Benzell, Brandon Adorno, James Malia, Ed Ruyon, Lisa Marriner, Samantha Burkholder, Shelby Smith, Ryan Burke, Abdiel Santiago, and Alex Casper.
Trapani has fielded several competitive teams in recent years. Middle won the state championship in 2007 and finished second in 2006.
Adorno, 17, said going up against last year's state champions was nerve-wracking.
"They were very scary. But in the end it came down to points. We managed to get the win. It was really close," he said.
The students flipped a coin to determine which side each would take in a case about an accident involving a driver who was distracted by a cell phone and a pedestrian who was also talking on a phone while crossing the street.
Middle argued the distracted walker's case. The team was prepared to argue the case for the driver as well, he said.
"Our argument was that she was paying attention to her surroundings and the driver was the one who glanced down at the cell phone," Adorno said.
Adorno is a senior with plans to attend Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., to study computer science. But Thursday's experience was not something he will soon forget, he said.
"This is the most important day of my high school career," he said. "I've been on the team for four years. It's great finally getting this recognition."
Marriner, a junior, texted her parents and siblings with news of her victory. She said she was not nervous about her performance in front of a justice.
"It was such an honor to talk to someone like that. Once you're up there all the butterflies go away," she said.
The township's police and volunteer fire companies escorted the team bus down Route 9 through the township with sirens flashing and horns blaring. Some parents lined the sidewalk holding Mylar balloons and waving.
Burkholder, a 16-year-old junior, had her mother watching from the gallery.
"She's a big support. I felt more comfortable that she was there," Burkholder said. "Winning was such a feeling of adrenaline. We are all such a close family on mock trial. It was amazing."
Burkholder said her experience on mock trial has piqued her interest in acting as a career.
"That's a major part of mock trial," she said.
Contact Michael Miller: