Tracy High School’s mock trial team ended its season this school year, taking second place in the annual competition against high schools from throughout San Joaquin County. Rival school Venture Academy Family of Schools took the first place spot this year and will be moving onto the state competition later this month. Mountain House High School placed third in the competition.

Like many extracurricular activities, this year’s mock trial competition was held virtually. Students competed a total of four weeks, with six rounds of play in February’s varsity event.

Typically matches are hosted at the San Joaquin County Courthouse in Stockton, where students are able to utilize the courtrooms to fully immerse themselves in a real trial environment. This time, all matches were hosted on Zoom.

Although Tracy High did have one or two in-person meetings and some outdoor practices to build chemistry and rapport amongst team members, the team took advantage of knowing they would be all virtual this year by conducting most practices on Zoom and reaching out to schools throughout the state to scrimmage with.

“Doing things in-person is very different than doing things on a camera. So we did make the transition, and then we were fully practicing on Zoom within like the first week or two,” said Tracy High Mock Trial Coach Nila Dhugga. “So in that case, in that sense, it was the one thing that was easier about Zoom as they can do it right from their bedrooms or their homes. But then the negative about it is I think you also are very different when you're in the home.”

Mock Trial, in which teams re-enact a fictitious court case in various trial roles, requires some mild acting skills from students playing in attorney and witness roles, which Dhugga said was one of the other challenging things to coach when on a virtual platform.

“There was a struggle in the beginning. But then, what we started to learn through scrimmages is, it's not ‘mock trial on Zoom.’ It's ‘Zoom mock trial,’ which is very different,” said Dhugga. “So we started to just think of it that way, that ‘how is this going to look to someone that's scoring us on camera versus traditional mock trial the way we do it?’”

Although they did not take the top spot this year, Dhugga – who is a practicing attorney herself – feels that her team did very well and that the playing field was equal amongst all the schools competing this year. She felt all the students who competed were just as, if not more, passionate about their roles this year with the added challenge.

In the three years she’s been coaching, Dhugga says the team has improved every year, and she’s ready to see how it grows next season. Her coaching efforts were also supported this year by the team’s teacher-coach Alayna Carter and Tracy High Senior Natasha Rodriguez, who is the president of the school’s 2020-21 mock trial team and played in a defense attorney role this year.

“The best part of this year was seeing all of our hard work pay off at County, despite the fact that all of it was online,” said Rodriguez. “I’m really proud that we were able to live up to the standard of previous year’s teams even with the pandemic and online school.”

The San Joaquin County Mock Trial event is co-sponsored by the San Joaquin County Office of Education and the San Joaquin County Bar Association in cooperation with the Constitutional Rights Foundation. This year’s court case, People v. Croddy, was the trial of a popular YouTube star who was charged with aiding and abetting in the commission of first-degree burglary by another and for being an accessory after the crime was committed.

• Contact Brianna Guillory at or 209-830-4229.

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