To donate, mail or drop money off at La Grande High School with “Mock trial” in the attention line.

Sixteen La Grande High School students are heading to state after winning the Oregon Mock Trial regional competition for the first time since the team was reinstated five years ago. They just have to find the funds to get them there.

The mock trial competition is an annual event where regional teams compete while arguing and defending a case. The students act as witnesses, defendants, attorneys — every facet of a regular case in a courtroom.

Calvin Smith, 17, is the president of the LHS mock trial team. This is his fourth and final year in the club. And his team finally made it state.

“We practice the whole shebang,” Smith said of the fake cases.

Union County District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel is one of the team’s advisers. McDaniel, Smith and the other students also had the help of LHS government teacher John Lamoreau, Brytney Stanley, Union County deputy DA, and Tiffany Hansen, who works in the juvenile department, to help them practice for the competition.

Smith said the team has practiced twice a week for most of the winter season. The case for this year’s regional competition was a civil case (they alternate between civil and criminal) and the team had to know every fact about the case in order to be the prosecuting attorney and defense.

“That will continue for state,” Smith said of the case.

The team will enact the same case at the state competition in Portland March 15-16, and this time the students will be competing with more than 14 other teams. They’ll have three rounds to compete, and the winner goes to nationals.

The regional competition was held March 2 at the Union County Courthouse. The state competition will be at Portland’s Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse.

Smith said McDaniel has taught them to always be prepared for at least one person to drop off the team, because it often happens. However, he said, this year’s team remained intact. He said the team seemed a bit rocky for a bit but the last two to three weeks they really sharpened up and got into a rhythm.

McDaniel said they had 13 returners on the team of 16. They knew what the competition entailed.

“It’s not hard work — it’s just a lot of work,” Smith said, noting McDaniel told him that.

Smith likes the competition of mock trial. He said he “possibly” could go into law, but it’s the camaraderie of the team that made him come back year after year.

Now, McDaniel, Smith and the rest of the team have to figure out how to pay for the trip to Portland.

“We’ve never had a budget for this,” McDaniel said of the team.

Though going to state has always been a possibility, this is the first time the LHS team won the regional competition under McDaniel, who has been coaching the team for five years. The team doesn’t have funding through the school to pay for the trip, and they’re hoping the community would be willing to help.

McDaniel said there are no plans for fundraising events, because the team wants to dedicate their time to practicing for state. There’s not a lot of time after school to hold a fundraiser in the next two weeks and practicing for the competition is essential.

The trip will have an estimated cost of $2,500 to pay for rooms, meals and transportation for the students, advisers and chaperones, McDaniel said.

She said this is a worthwhile competition that teaches students professionalism, confidence and how to think on their feet.

“They judge the students on how well they work as a team,” she said. “(The judges) want to make sure the team helps each other.”

She said she participated in mock trial when she was in high school and still has friendships she generated by being on the team. The mock trial team brings together students from different backgrounds and allows them to work together.

“We have a diverse group of students,” McDaniel said. “The success of the team depends on every participant.”

She said what the competition teaches the students are things she uses in court now as the district attorney.

Smith agreed, adding the event teaches them to be professionals — it’s a fundamental part of the competition.

“We’re very excited,” McDaniel said. “We’ve been working for this for five years.”