Mock Trial head coach retires after breaking streak of losses to rival school
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After five years of assistant coaching and three years of head coaching, Mock Trial coach Wayne Strumpfer has retired.
Strumpfer, a former prosecutor, taught the Mock Trial class for the Academic Talent Search program at CSUS before coaching Country Day’s team.
He first got involved with the SCDS team when he helped former head coach Jeanine Boyers out by judging the scrimmage trials and giving feedback.
“(Strumpfer) told us to relax and try to improvise more, as opposed to reading straight from our notes,” former Mock Trial member Emma Brown, ’16, said.
After five years of judging the scrimmages and advising students on their performances, Strumpfer was offered the job of head coach when Boyers resigned to homeschool her daughter.
And after only a short time of Strumpfer being head coach, Boyers said she already knew that he was different from most Mock Trial coaches.
“(He had a) soothing, thoughtful demeanor (and was) not easily ruffled.” Boyers said. “He was calm, professional and carefully chose his words.”
With composure and collectiveness, Strumpfer coached all types of cases during his three years as head coach: an art theft, a baseball-bat assault and a human trafficking case.
However, Strumpfer’s legacy began with a rocky start. After only a week or so of working on the art-theft case during his first year in 2015, Strumpfer and other Mock Trial members were disappointed in the case.
“When we started, we thought it was the lamest case we had ever seen,” Strumpfer said. “(But) as the season progressed, it really came to life. We had experts on art (that made) it really interesting when we got to the actual competition.”
For years leading up to this competition, Country Day had developed a rivalry with Rio Americano High School due to a losing streak against the Raiders.
“We had for years and years lost to Rio Americano in the quarterfinals or semifinals of the competition,” Strumpfer said.
“(Junior) Jack Christian and Emma Belliveau, (’16), were the attorneys. And the other seniors, Max Schmitz, (’16), and Akilan (Murugesan, ’16), who had lost to Rio every year, competed against them in round three or four.
“The next day I got the results back first, and we had beat Rio. So I sent a text out to the seniors, and I said, ‘Unbelievable, you guys!’”
Though Strumpfer had already beaten a rival and placed fourth and third in one of the most competitive county competitions in the league, he still had one goal: to return to the county finals.
The Country Day Mock Trial team had reached the county finals only once, in 2009, and hadn’t returned for almost a decade.
Strumpfer’s final season didn’t begin as planned, though, as the team faced a major problem when a student quit due to a family emergency, causing a shift in positions.
Junior future co-captain Gabi Alvarado was one of the students whose roles changed. When the year started, she was an attorney on one of the teams and a witness on the other. But once the student left, Strumpfer realized that he had to make her a witness for both prosecution and defense.
“I knew that she would be disappointed about that because she liked being an attorney, so I met with her after school one day,” Strumpfer said.
“She was not that excited about it, and she questioned my decision to do it. (But) at the end of the conversation, she grudgingly agreed to be the witness for both sides.
“(Alvarado) then took that disappointment of not being an attorney and was the best witness most of us had ever seen.”
Though at first Alvarado was not thrilled with this position change, she now believes that it was for the best.
“He puts us in our best positions possible to make our team run smoothly,” Alvarado said. “He knows how to push us to be better.”
Though Alvarado delivered a perfect score of 10-10-10 on the defense side against Jesuit High School, she said it didn’t mean that she wasn’t nervous.
“I get super stressed before rounds,” Alvarado said. “I hyperventilate, feel sick to my stomach, the works.”
Strumpfer also got nervous before his trials. To calm Alvarado down, Strumpfer let her in on a little secret.
“He told me that when he was a ‘baby attorney’ (just out of law school), he would go and throw up like 15 minutes before the trial started and then be just fine,” Alvarado said.
However, this past year, Strumpfer started to let his nerves go.
“This year, for some reason, I felt calmer, and it seemed like the team seemed calmer,” Strumpfer said.
Strumpfer credits Christian; last year’s co-captains Shriya Nadgauda, ’17, and Jaelan Trapp, ’17; and Alvarado for helping him relax during competition.
“(They) had this calm confidence about them that made it easier for me,” Strumpfer said. “And it did make it more enjoyable to watch the trials.”
Nadgauda, who participated in Mock Trial for four years, said that Strumpfer took the time to get to know each member on the team.
“He knew what I was good at, what I liked doing and the things I struggled with,” Nadgauda said.
“And then he would give me roles that played to my strengths but also forced me to get better at the things I didn’t feel very comfortable (with).”
Due to the student who quit, Nadgauda also had to change her role.
“Wayne had always said that I would be good at pre-trial,” Nadgauda said.
“But personally, I thought it would be boring, and I didn’t really want to do it. But this year I ended up doing it.
“I’ve done practically every role there is, and out of all of them I think I learned the most, grew the most and had the most fun doing pre-trial.”
A team that had faced problems at first rebounded and pushed its way back to the finals.
Even though the team did not end up county champions, Strumpfer said he believes that making the finals and improving each year were big enough accomplishments.
“That feeling when we were announced (as) the winners of the semi-finals was overwhelming,” Strumper said.
“I felt so strongly about these kids and knew how hard they (had) worked. (In) my three years we went from fourth to third to second. So I feel like I can brag about that a little bit.”
Strumpfer retired as Mock Trial coach due to a change in his job.
He previously worked for the state government but has decided to move to a private law firm.
Since Mock Trial met mostly on weekends, Strumpfer realized that he didn’t have time to coach the team while working at his new job.
Though a bittersweet loss in the finals ended Strumpfer’s legacy, it does not end Country Day’s. A new coach has already been selected.
Rick Lewkowitz has helped coach Mock Trial both at a high-school level at Elk Grove and at a college level at UC Davis.
Strumpfer met Lewkowitz during his first year as deputy district attorney; Lewkowitz was his supervisor.
“I’ve kept in touch with him over the years.” Strumpfer said. “He and I would have lunch together once or twice a year and talk about the program.”
Since Country Day and Elk Grove are in the same county, Strumpfer and Lewkowitz regularly competed.
“Even though we were rivals, we were pretty good friends,” Strumpfer said.
Before telling the school his decision to retire, Strumpfer asked Lewkowitz if he’d be interested in running his own program, since he was only the assistant coach at Elk Grove.
“He’d always liked Country Day, liked the feeling of a small private school and always thought that it was amazing how well we did with such a small group of students,” Strumpfer said.
So when Strumpfer announced his retirement, he told head of high school Brooke Wells that he already had a replacement.
“A guy that would be great, better than me,” Strumpfer told Wells.
Though Strumpfer is passing the baton, there are still a couple of things that he hopes his students won’t forget.
“(I want them to remember) to be in the moment, to think on their feet, to be ready to argue anything, and to be ready for a surprise,” Strumpfer said.
Not only will the students never forget that, they will also never forget Strumpfer.
“He is always willing to give someone a chance to prove themselves,” Trapp said. “He sees the potential in people.”
“He is always kind and willing to listen to everyone,” sophomore Téa Huynh Van said.
“The reason that he will be missed the most is (because) he knows us,” Alvarado said.
“He knows us and cares about us, and we him, and that kind of relationship will leave with him.”
—By Jackson Margolis