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ECC beats Yale in mock trial tournament
By Kerry Lester | Daily Herald Staff

The Elgin Community College mock trial team that defeated a team from Yale, with college President David Sam, left.


Photo courtesy Ronald Kowalczyk

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Published: 11/9/200 10:16 AM | Updated: 11/9/2009 7:33 PM

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Move over, Ivy Leagues. There's a new school in town.

Elgin Community College, the only community college to compete in Harvard's annual Crimson Classic mock trial tournament over the weekend, beat two of the four prestigious teams it was pitted against - Villanova and Yale.

Villanova has held U.S. News and World Report magazine's top spot as the best master's university in the North for more than a decade. And Yale is, well, Yale.

"WE BEAT YALE!!!!" ECC tweeted early Monday morning.

"I had always hoped we would go up against a Harvard or a Yale," team adviser and ECC paralegal professor Ronald Kowalczyk said. "But the thought to compete against them and be able to beat them, just wow."

ECC was one of 11 teams participating in the two-day tournament. Arguing four separate times throughout the weekend and given scores by judges, the team beat Villanova in the tournament's first round, lost to Brown in the second, beat Yale in the third, and lost to Princeton in the final round. The teams debated murder cases each school received over the summer.

After learning they'd beat Yale, Kowalczyk said, a holler broke out from ECC's students.

"I would say we were stunned. You never know in the end how the judging is going to come down."

Two years ago, ECC didn't even have a mock trial team. In the fall of 2007, Kowalczyk was approached by a student who had participated in mock trial in high school and was hoping to join one in college.

Kowalczyk started the group, and in the first year students competed in just one tournament. Last year was the first full season.

"We've definitely grown since that first year," said ECC student and team President Anastasia "Asia" Toufexis of Elgin said last week.

Nine of the team's 40 students - Toufexis, Jennifer Rieger, Rebecca Day, Jessica Bianchi, Elizabeth Martzel, Eleni Bala, Robert Dalin, Rita Russo and Mary Burke - were selected to compete in the Harvard tournament.

ECC got into the tournament, Kowalczyk said, by persistence. He had written the college several times and a few months ago was told ECC was on the Crimson Classic waiting list. After another team canceled, he got the call.

Along with being the only community college to compete in the Harvard tournament, ECC is one of only two community colleges competing in American Mock Trial Association tournaments.

College President David Sam flew out for the tournament.

The team celebrated their success by heading out to a nice dinner in Boston Sunday night, then stayed up through the night "debriefing" until their early-morning red-eye flight back to Chicago, Kowalcyzk said.

According to college paralegal coordinator Laurel Vietzen, in addition to beating Villanova and Yale, ECC had a better record than Boston College's "A" team, Wake Forest, Boston University, Dartmouth's "A" and "B" teams, and Wellesley's A&B teams. It also tied Penn State. The Brown team, to which ECC lost by a very narrow margin, ended up being the winner of the entire tournament.

ECC's mock trial team has several more tournaments in the coming weeks, before taking part in the American Mock Trial Association regionals in February.