(Editor’s note: The following article, featuring UIU Mock Trial team member Elizabeth Goddard, was republished with permission of Fayette County Newspapers and news/feature writer Jack Swanson.)
The State of Midland vs. Jordan Ryder is the most important court case of the year; in fact, it’s the only case and it will be tried hundreds, perhaps thousands of times across the U.S. But that’s only if you are a member of a Mock Trial team.
Upper Iowa University in Fayette is fairly new at this extracurricular competition where college and university students try a case in front of a group of judges. The school is in its third year. The same case is tried in every competition and at every competition for each season.
One of UIU’s team members is Elizabeth Goddard from Clermont. This is her second year of competition.
“I would rather talk to a room of 2000 strangers than 50 of my friends and relatives. No matter what the topic, I can talk about anything to anyone,” said the Communication Major with an emphasis on Public Speaking.
Elizabeth, unlike some of her UIU teammates, has to use note cards during the competitions, and unlike some of her other teammates, she suffers from short-term memory loss and some physical challenges as the result of a near fatal accident five years ago.
Elizabeth was a freshman at North Fayette Valley High School. On May 20, 2015, she had just completed an early morning piano lesson before school and was riding her bike home.
“It was the best I’d ever played. It was a song for my upcoming recital. I was three blocks away from home when I was hit by a car. I don’t remember anything about the accident after that,” Elizabeth explained.
One of her legs was broken at the femur, she had a bone broke in her neck, and head trauma that left her in a coma for over a month.
She missed the first quarter of her sophomore year of high school but managed to graduate with her classmates in 2018.
“Now I use lots of sticky notes and my phone. If it would affect my performances or if I thought it was hurting us as a team, I might quit. I don’t want my disability to get in the way. My teammates encourage me to the max. I couldn’t do it if they didn’t back me up,” she pointed out.
It seems hard for her to form words sometimes and sometimes she has to repeat herself to convey the meaning she really wants to express, but her desire to communicate keeps her from holding back.
This year she’s playing Kelly Doos, a witness in a case involving a woman who takes her daughter on a camping trip and the daughter ends up dead.
“There are lawyers and witnesses on each team. This year I’m a witness who’s kind of a ditzy social media addict. I have to describe what I saw and heard. You’re allowed to make your answers up within reason,” she pointed out.
Elizabeth credits her dad, Dennis, with getting her into the Mock Trial group. An employee at UIU, he heard about the group and thought his daughter would love it.
“He knows I love to give speeches and debate. If you would ever hear my dad and I argue you’d understand. I tried out and I really loved it. It really satisfies my love for public speaking,” she said.
Elizabeth said she is judged on how well she knows the case and how well she stays in character.
“It’s less about what you know and more about giving a convincing portrayal, and acting is my middle name,” she said with a smile.
She and her teammates practice twice a week, from two to over four hours sometimes.
Chris Kragnes and his wife, Tiffany, both lawyers by trade, are the coaches for UIU. Chris is also an associate professor of Business at Upper Iowa. Tiffany is an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at the school.
“In no way, shape or form is Elizabeth an impediment. The team accepted her with open arms. We love having her on the team. She’s an incredibly smart young woman,” Chris commented.
He said the team earns rankings in every round and that they have earned many already this year.
“We’re slowly building our foundation. We have various individuals on our team that we put together in one group,” Chris said, adding that typically schools get students who have competed in Mock Trial in high school, but that hasn’t been the case at UIU.
“None of our team members have had any mock trial experience,” he related, but pointed out that each year they get a little better and that some of the students that started out with the program three years ago as freshmen will be going into their fourth year with quite a bit of experience.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding and challenging at the same time. So far the judges have been very complimentary of Liz’s performances,” Chris said.
Each team has three attorneys and three witnesses. The cases switch from year to year from civil to criminal. This year it’s a criminal case.
“The witnesses really have to learn their parts,” he said.
In February the group goes into regionals with finals in May.
“No matter how much people might try to judge me, I still want to do this. I don’t want to hold back,” Elizabeth said.