Tufts Mock Trial hosts 14th annual Mumbo Jumbo tournament

Tufts Mock Trial's A Team from spring 2021 is pictured. Courtesy Bennett Demsky

Tufts Mock Trial hosted its 14th annual Mumbo Jumbo Invitational tournament in the Science and Engineering Complex on the weekend of Oct. 30. The tournament attracted a number of schools from all over the country, including Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, Cornell, Northwestern and UCLA.

The tournament was held in person for the first time since 2019. New restrictions did not stop teams from competing enthusiastically.

“That was my first tournament with my team in-person, so I think honestly, just getting to do in-person mock trial again was the best thing in the world,” Tufts Mock Trial Co-President Fatima Lawan said.

Washington University in St. Louis, the University of South Carolina and Penn State University placed first, second and third, respectively.

“A trend that we definitely see is every year, it gets more and more competitive,” Tournament Director Carina Lo said. “It gets more and more exclusive and hard to get into.”

Lawan said the tournament’s operations have improved over the years. 

“We’ve expanded the pool and the network of new people we know,” Lawan said. “Maybe that gives us a larger pool of judges to pull from.”

One of Tufts’ teams came in fifth place, and Tufts won the Spirit of Mumbo Award, an award that all teams at the tournament vote on to recognize the team with the best sportsmanship and spirit.

“When I joined, we were already very good,” Lawan said. “I think now as time has gone on by, people have really started to hone in on that craft. We have such a talented pool of people — it’s actually ridiculous, the depth of talent that the program has.”

Each year, the American Mock Trial Association releases a case for use in competition. This year’s case dealt with a defendant accused of aggravated arson. The case alleged that the defendant burnt down their own bar using paint thinner as an accelerant, in hopes of collecting an insurance payout to alleviate debt held on the loan they took out for renovations on the bar. The case also detailed that a firefighter died fighting the fire at the bar.

During the tournament, Tufts’ teams ran different case theories to see which scored better. In the spring, Lawan explained, teams usually end up using those theories in competition, knowing they will work well.

Lo, a junior, reflected on the challenges of last year’s virtual tournament, explaining that there were a lot of unexpected hurdles that came with hosting a large Mock Trial tournament online.

“I think there was a bit of a learning curve for us because last year was virtual,” Lo said. “So, I really learned how to do everything virtually, like the Zoom breakout rooms.”

While members of Tufts Mock Trial were ecstatic to be able to host an in-person tournament this year, they noted that they faced a new set of challenges. They required all participants to be vaccinated, which meant that some teams couldn’t attend, and everyone had to remain masked while indoors.

“For a public speaking activity, there were initially questions about how that would work,” Lawan, a junior, said. “We knew that we couldn’t have people in rooms talking unmasked. And we found that it honestly worked pretty effectively.”

Assistant Tournament Director Amari Turner added that although finding judges was unexpectedly more challenging than last year — when judges could join the tournament virtually from their homes — they were able to find sufficient judges.

Lo and Turner, a sophomore, did face a few mid-tournament obstacles, including a team that got kicked out of its hotel just 20 minutes before its last round was supposed to begin. Their quick thinking demonstrated the close-knit nature of the Tufts Mock Trial team, as they called on a previous tournament director for help ferrying this team from their Boston hotel to the SEC.

Lo further expressed the benefits of Tufts Mock Trial’s being able to run its own tournament.

“When you run your own tournament, it’s the one time you get to guarantee that your team gets a good experience,” Lo said. “It’s helpful for the team overall, to have one tournament that they know will be good, that they can rely on.”

Next year, Turner will be the tournament director, and she hopes to hold Mumbo Jumbo off campus at a courthouse.

“I feel like that’s going to be the biggest change,” Turner said. “Mumbo is usually run very well, so we just keep the same practices.”

Tufts Mock Trial teams will round out the fall season with a tournament at the University of South Carolina and another one in Virginia.


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