Despite working full-time jobs as classical school teachers and living hours away from campus, Hillsdale mock trial coaches Jon and Lindsey Church drive to campus from Detroit about twice a week to lead the mock trial program.
Both Jon and Lindsey attended Hillsdale, graduating in 2017. Both minored in classical education and served as GOAL leaders — Lindsey leading the charter school tutoring program, and Jon leading the public school tutoring program. They both currently teach at a classical school — Lindsey teaching math and logic, and Jon teaching Latin and rhetoric, among other classes. They contend that their mock trial experience has shaped them in their careers as teachers.
“If you’re going to teach well, then you’re going to be questioning well,” Lindsey said. “Things don’t always go the way you planned them to. You have to be able to react to how the students are actually understanding something and change your approach to fit your audience.
Mock trial was one of Jon’s major high school activities. He grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was homeschooled through junior high, and then did some classes at a public high school while continuing partial homeschooling. After graduating from high school, Jon took two years off school to work before attending college.
“I worked quite a few jobs, usually three at a time,” he said. “Usually it involved starting the day working from 7:30 until 2 or 3 at a European car dealership. Then I’d go serve [as a waiter at a restaurant], then I’d go clean when I was done waiting tables.”
During the school year, he had the chance to replace his restaurant job with coaching the mock trial team he had been a part of in high school.
“I captained the team through high school, and then they ended up offering me a job coaching after I graduated,” he said. “It was a small program, it wasn’t well-known, we were not ranked well. We ended up moving up and winning state championship by my final year coaching.”
When Jon began to consider colleges, Hillsdale was not on his list until his pastor convinced him to think about it.
“Every Sunday he would talk to me and tell me how his grandkids had gone to Hillsdale and he knew I’d just love it,” Jon said. “He was insistent, and sold the school really well, so I ended up visiting and it became my first-choice school.”
Lindsey grew up attending a private Christian school. Her father was the first to inspire her interest in Hillsdale, and she was fully convinced she should attend after her college visit.
Some of Jon and Lindsey’s favorite memories as students came from their role in the mock trial team.
“My favorite memories are probably traveling with the mock trial team,” said Jon, who was the team manager during his time as a student. “It was a big part of what I did. Getting to know the team, getting close with a group of people as we traveled across the country and faced off against some pretty big schools.”
Hillsdale was also where Jon and Lindsey met each other. They had several mutual friends freshman year and were also in the same Introduction to Political Economy course with Professor of Economics Gary Wolfram.
After graduation they joined Neil Brady, Hillsdale’s county prosecutor, as mock trial coaches. While the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA), which governs all college mock trial teams, has three tournaments in the spring, teams usually go to other invitational tournaments at colleges which will give them additional practice. Part of the Churches’ role is getting invitations to these tournaments.
“We usually go to four [tournaments] in the fall, and then three in the spring if we make it to nationals,” Lindsey said.
Hillsdale’s team has never made it to nationals, but the Churches are hopeful, they said. They also note that the students have a lot of big wins against huge schools. The team competes against colleges such as Indiana University, University of Chicago, Cornell University, and Pennsylvania State University, as well as others each year.
“We have tons of rounds against some of the best schools in the country, including big research universities and Ivy Leagues,” Jon said. “It’s one of my favorite things about the program because it gives Hillsdale students a chance to compete against the best in the country.”
Other administrative work they have to do includes planning travel and putting together lesson plans. They also spend a lot of time outside of that working with students on their legal arguments.
Jon says the mock trial team is an “incredibly close” community.
“It’s a program we believe in,” Jon expanded. “We absolutely love the team. The people within the team sometimes call it the ‘mock trial family.’”
The students appreciate them, as well.
“Jon and Lindsey are great people,” sophomore Connor Daniels said. “They’re both alumni of the college and were very good when they competed on the mock trial team, so they really know how mock trial works, but also how it works for Hillsdale College students. They’re familiar with the kinds of schedules we keep and really understand the perspective we have in coming to mock trial as a competitive event …. To come down here once or twice a week — that’s impressive. It means a lot to us.”