The Phoenix high school student who won a respected national moot court competition said it took a motivational talk from her father to convince her to compete.
South Mountain High School senior Eugenia Anane-Wae triumphed over her final round competitor coached by students from the prestigious Yale Law School to win the 2014 Marshall-Brennan National Moot Court Competition, which was held April 5 at American University in Washington, D.C.
“My dad told me you never know what you can get from this experience,” said Eugenia, a student in the school’s aviation/aerospace education magnet program. “That was motivation for me all the way through to put as much as I can into it, and I’m glad that I did.”
Eugenia is the second national champion from South Mountain High School, a public school that is part of the Phoenix Union High School District. Ambra Jordan won the competition in 2009.
Eugenia, the winning petitioner, prepared for the competition with her friend and teammate Markaya Hill, a senior in South Mountain High Schools’ law magnet program, who was named first runner up among respondents.
“I saw a lot of the seniors last year preparing for the program and discussing it. When they got back they were showing us pictures and talking about it,” Markaya said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could put in the time and effort to make it as far as I did. When I achieved that, it was fantastic.”
Fifty of the 500 students nationally studying constitutional law with law school students in the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project qualified for nationals.
At nationals, the students argued both sides of a fictional case of a middle-school student questioned by a police officer in the principal’s office after a school bomb threat was posted on social media earlier that day from the student’s phone. Students were provided with briefings and transcripts
“There are certain undisputable facts, but you want to color them so that it leans one way or another when you’re delivering it to the judges so that they can lean towards your side,” Markaya said.
Alexis Carter and Logan Spahr rounded out the South Mountain team, which was coached by students from the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
Alexis was one of 24 national moot court semifinalists and was ranked first overall in the Arizona State Mock Trial competition. Logan received all-state recognition during the Arizona State Mock Trial competition.
“What an outstanding accomplishment to send three of four students to the semifinals and two to the finals, let alone having the National Champion,” said Matthew Smith, program manager of the South Mountain law magnet program.
“I was thoroughly impressed by how great my opponent was,” Eugenia said. “It was humbling almost to know that the judges felt that I was also at that level. It was mind-blowing.”
Julia Silverstein was named national champion among respondents, while Xavier Scottile was named first runner up among petitioners.
“During the whole competition, I didn’t think about where the other kids were coming from, what they were doing, or what they were bringing to the table,” Markaya said.
Instead, Markaya said she kept her focus on her strengths and what she needed to do to win.
“It was between me and the judges,” Markaya said. “These are the people I have to impress.”
“It’s a testament to the work put in by the students and their confidence in their abilities, which grew with each round,” Smith said.
The South Mountain students were coached by ASU Law students Cory Tyszka, Chris Steckbauer, Jennifer Lee-Cota and Joni Noggle.
“They went through all the cases we could use for our arguments, helping us pick out those details that help our case the most as well as understanding how it could help the other case,” Eugenia said.
The law students helped with information about court decorum and “how we were to conduct ourselves in the Supreme Court setting,” Markaya said.
“They were able to give us questions that were from a different perspective from what we’d thought of before,” Markaya said.
The South Mountain students were taught by law magnet teachers Andrea Sargent and Matt Smith.
“The training brought by the law students from ASU was exceptional and provided our Law Magnet students with an opportunity they will always remember,” Smith said.
Markaya said so much of what she’s learned in the law magnet program, especially how to operate in a courtroom, helped in the competition.
“Certain things about arguments, the way we’re to conduct ourselves as far as working with opposing counsel, our feeling with the judges, and the overall experience of being in a courtroom before kept it from being overwhelming during the competition,” Markaya said.
“For me, it was the little tips that I got, because they helped me have an idea of what I should expect in a courtroom,” Eugenia said. “How to open with ‘May it please the court,’ whenever you answer a question from the judge saying ‘Yes, your honor’ and ‘No, your honor.’ ”
The most challenging part of the competition was finding “thing that no one else has said or say it in a different way,” Eugenia said.
“You have to make sure the judges believe it so you’re trying to take it from somewhere else and tie it in somehow,” Eugenia said.
“The challenge was constantly having to have two minds,” Markaya said. “There was an idea I would have, and I would have to see that idea and the way to refute it all the time, even during the argument, thinking on my feet, how can I say this and how can I rebut what they’re going to say constantly.”
During the competition the judges try not to give any indication how students are doing, Markaya said.
“You feel it though, especially when your opponent is just sitting there awestruck watching you do your argument,” Markaya said. “You just feel your skin tingling, adrenalin rushing, because you know you’re doing well. There’s no way you could be feeling this good and doing really badly.”
Eugenia said she could tell how she was doing by the amount and depth of the judges’ questions.
“They push you with questions to try to break you,” Eugenia said. “It’s just nice to be able to have an answer for everything they’re asking.”
“If the judges’ questions are becoming more frequent and more difficult, you knew they were saying ‘this kid knows what they’re talking about, let’s see how far we can take them,’ ” Markaya said. “The level of intensity just keeps increasing.”
The four South Mountain students also visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln, Vietnam, Korea, WWII memorials, the Washington Monument, the White House, Air and Space Museum, and the United States Supreme Court, Smith said.
Determination and persuasiveness helped the students in the competition as well as their ability to take constructive criticism.
Those characteristics also helped Markaya and Eugenia both finish in a five-way tie for first place and gold medals in Arizona’s Academic Decathlon scholastic interview event with perfect scores and win gold medals for best overall interview.
Family support was invaluable, Markaya and Eugenia said.
“My family, they’re really supportive of my endeavors,” Markaya said. “They were really helpful sitting there and listening to the same argument over, and over, and over again.”
When Eugenia learned she had won the competition, she and Markaya were so happy they cried. Then Eugenia called her father.
“I called him when I found out and he was like ‘What?’” Eugenia said.
“He just kept repeating her name on the phone,” Markaya said.
“I was like yeah,” Eugenia said.
Eugenia said winning “proved a lot to me. It was a booster to my self-esteem.”
After graduation, Eugenia, who was recently certified as a private pilot, plans to study aerospace or biomedical engineering at University of Arizona.
Markaya plans to study psychology at Arizona State University or Howard University and eventually go to law school.
“I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was 7,” Markaya said. “I saw ‘Law & Order’ and I wanted to be a detective. Then in the next part of the show, I saw the courtroom scene and that was it for me. I was awestruck and knew that was what I wanted to do.”
The national Moot Court competition reinforced that desire to become a trial lawyer, Markaya said.
“I didn’t realize the level of reward it would bring, making it as far as we did, but it’s life changing,” Markaya said.