Almost anything can happen at a mock trial competition.

Emily Deal, a La Grande High School senior, knows this well, which is why she is doing everything she can to avoid letting her opponents benefit from the element of surprise.

The senior is a member of the two LHS mock trial teams set to compete at Saturday’s Student Law Project regional competition at the Union County Courthouse. The case that will be argued throughout the day involves a fatal accident allegedly caused by a driver who was texting. Deal, who will play the role of a witness, is trying to anticipate every possible question she could be asked by cross-examiners from opposing high school teams.

Deal has thought up dozens of questions and practiced responding to them instantly. She hopes this will prevent her from giving answers that members of the opposition can turn around to help their case. Her goal is to make sure her answers never contradict the mock sworn affidavit assigned to her, a written statement made after the fictitious accident.

“I talk to myself. I talk myself through my affidavit,” Deal said Wednesday after a mock trial practice.

This will be Deal’s second year of competing in the mock trial for LHS. She said that her participation has benefited her enormously.

“It has introduced me to how the law system works,” she said.

Deal is one of more than 30 LHS students participating in mock trial competition. The program was discontinued several years ago but was restored about five years ago and has been growing since then. This is the first year since the rebirth of the program that LHS has had enough participants for two teams, said Union County District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel, who directs the program with Tiffany Hansen of Union County’s juvenile department and the help of LHS social studies teacher John Lamoreau.

McDaniel credits the program’s growth to the positive experiences students are having, which results in more returnees and makes it easier to recruit newcomers. She said many parents have told her stories about how their previously shy son or daughter blossomed with self-confidence after joining the mock trial program.

“When I hear parents say that, that is why I come back (to coach each year),” McDaniel said.

Students who have been with the program for at least three years include junior Kendra N. Smith. She is drawn to the program for many reasons including the sense of camaraderie its members enjoy.

“We are not just a team,” she said. “We are more like a family.”

Julie Chandler, a sophomore, enjoys being part of the program because it makes her feel connected.

“I did it in middle school and absolutely loved it. It is a very good way to get involved,’’ she said.

A number of students, including Alyssa Jones, participate in mock trial as a means of boosting their communication skills.

“It is helping me improve my public speaking skills,” Jones said.

Michael Dunn, a senior, likes the way the mock trial program is improving his ability to react quickly to the unexpected.

“I am learning how to think quickly on my feet,” he said.

Students involved in mock trial learn about more than the inner workings of the criminal justice system. Many, including those who participate as witnesses and cross-examiners, get to hone their acting skills.

Freshman William Sharpe echoed this sentiment.

“It is a lot like theater,” the LHS student said.

Corrian Kellogg, a junior, noted that it is important to appear sincere.

“You have to convince (the judges) that you believe what you are saying,” said Kellogg, who has been involved in mock since her sophomore year.

See complete story in Friday's Observer