Glenwood team heavy on success, but has fun, too

Attorney and Glenwood Springs High School mock trial coach Charlie Willman times Chuck Bergren-Aragon as the student delivers his argument in a recent practice at the Garfield County Courthouse. Teammates, from left, Eileen Klomhaus, Isabel Carlson and Joseph Ciborowski prepare to provide constructive criticism.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — If Glenwood Springs High School senior Chuck Bergren-Aragon feels pressure being part of a mock trial program that over the years has claimed several state titles and been a national runner-up, he doesn’t admit to it.

“We’ve just got to go into it with the mindset it’s our year. It doesn’t matter what teams have done in the past; that doesn’t impact us,” he said as he joined a handful of others to practice opening and closing arguments in a Garfield County courtroom on a recent evening.

Besides, he said, it’s not as if Glenwood’s student body is focused on how the team does from year to year.

“They care about football; that’s about it,” he said.

Bergren-Aragon says that with a smile, which is just one of the things he likes about mock trial.

“It’s kind of like a place to gather with people you really like and just laugh a lot,” he said. It’s also a place where team members take what they do seriously and are, as Bergren-Aragon puts it, “productive.”

Glenwood’s program normally fields three teams, and the school usually finishes in the top 10 at state. From 2002–05, the program won four state championships in a row. It also has recorded second- and third-place finishes at the national level, and two seventh-place finishes.

Such success doesn’t come without work. Charlie Willman, one of the attorneys who coaches the program, said participants this year started practicing in August for a competition in October. They could keep going until Mother’s Day if they win state and qualify for nationals.

Working around an attorney-coach’s schedule can mean not starting practice until early evening.

“We go to 9 or 9:30, and they have to go home and do homework,” Willman said. “It’s not easy.”

But the rewards of participation can be great, believes Vic Zerbi, a retired Garfield County judge who as a longtime coach has figured prominently in the program’s success.

“I believe this is one of the most challenging and difficult things kids can do in high school because it involves so many skills,” he said.

Reading, writing and improvisational thinking can help participants in careers, which may or may not include law. Zerbi’s daughter, Merida, participated in mock trial in Glenwood Springs and now is an attorney in Monte Vista. Willman’s daughter, Abby, another mock trial veteran, is in law school. But Bergren-Aragon said he’d like to be a television anchorman and thinks mock trial will help him think quickly.

Sophomore Eileen Klomhaus said it’s a great program for improving one’s critical thinking.

She added, “I think it’s really helpful with public speaking, which is most likely something I’ll go into in some sort of career. … I’ve considered being an attorney, but I have no idea at this point.”

Having 24 kids in the program this year enables Glenwood Springs to field multiple teams. While Zerbi is happy to see Durango developing a strong program and Grand Junction’s greatly improving, he’s disturbed that the number of mock trial programs is falling on the Western Slope.


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