How Losing Gave Me More Than Winning Ever Has

The hardest thing about being a leader is watching the people you lead fall short. This is what happened to my team this weekend, but only on paper.

At the beginning of this semester, I was honored to be asked to captain a team with Kyle Mangrum. The opportunity to serve as a leader in this organization was incredible and graciously accepted. This was only the start of a journey that would prove to be unexpectedly transformative.

For months, I gathered in a room with nine people for four hours every week. We tried to find the proper balance between practicing and having dance battles. We watched YouTube videos, quoted Vines, and watched Noah Hooton do the Cha Cha Slide week after week. This was happening in conjecture with us preparing to travel to the regional American Mock Trial Competition and go on trial to argue about attempted murder.

There were drugs, affairs, tears, threats, secrets, confrontations, betrayals, and that’s just what was in the case materials. In my team, there was self-sacrifice, self-discipline, teamwork, and encouragement. We had brand new members that experienced mock trial for the first time this weekend who scored better than I have with six years of experience under my belt.

Brooke Hoffner and Hannah Foran, new to the team, were powerhouse attorneys. We learned that Brooke is a real-life Elle Woods and that Hannah puts the team before everything she is feeling. These two ladies learned cross examinations minutes before performing them in a competition setting and went from sustaining objects made against themselves and having to repeat pre-trial matters hundreds of times to saving entire testimonies and being ranked on ballots.

Kyle Mangrum, Noah Hooton, and Truman Beene were our veteran attorneys. Truman Beene is notorious for expressing his nerves in comical ways and frequently. This entire weekend, Truman did not make a single comment about his nerves. In doing this, he fostered an environment of confidence amongst our team. When Noah wasn’t dreaming about murdering me, explaining how to sleep on the side of a pillow, or going on hour-long quests, he was crushing it in the courtroom. Noah ranked first on a ballot, scored perfect 10s, and enabled me to win my very first witness award. Kyle’s closing statements changed lives, flipped themes, and made entire courtrooms feel things they never thought they could feel.

Alex Wampler forced me to slink down in the witness bench to hide my laughter from his incredible portrayals of a detective, a street musician, and a 13-year-old. Watching Alex annihilate opposing counsels on cross-examinations all with the slightest hint of a smirk on his face was enough to make our entire team beam. Tamara Alimurka switched from child to PTA mom without the slightest hint of trouble. She snatched high scores and witness rankings while also making everyone laugh and writing Vine references to me during entire trials. Sharing the witness bench with Alex and Tamara can best be described by doing your absolute hardest and returning to see multiple pages of positive notes about you when you returned to your seat.

My team enabled me to win my first ever witness award as the defense expert witness, pharmacologist, Dr. Ryan Reeves. The feeling of having your name called for an award is beyond the point of exciting and exhilarating.

This isn’t the only award my team won.

Before we left for the competition, I told my team about the Spirit of AMTA award. This award goes to the team that exemplifies the best sportsmanship at the entire competition. I told them that losing this award was not an option because as representatives of the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Mock Trial, we ought to feel compelled to win this award. I told them to compliment other teams as they got ready, give constructive feedback so other teams could succeed in future rounds, never be rude, and to do this for ourselves.

Out of every team at the regional competition, my team won the Spirit of AMTA. They held doors for teams, laughed with them, comforted them in obvious distress, took pictures for them, and acted with grace and genuine kindness.

Standing up to receive this award on behalf of this team brought tears to my eyes because I couldn’t believe that I was lucky enough to call myself a captain of the people that taught me the most.

They watched me sob on the phone with my father in between rounds when I felt like I, as a captain, had done something wrong in training them for this competition. When we left for the competition, I thought that we were going there to win ballots and receive a bid to continue in the competition. I would never have guessed that we were there to look inwards at the deepest parts of ourselves and bring out confidence, grace, and composure.

My team won.

We won an individual award, the Spirit of AMTA, irreplaceable friendships, world records for Uber addictions, patty cake competitions at Señor Iguana.

We did not advance in the competition. We lost most of our ballots. We faced loss after loss.

Even with all of the heartbreak, discouragement, disappointment, trials, and tribulations…

My team won.

I won when I was chosen to captain Team 1167 and I will never lose what I gained when I lost at the Louisville, Kentucky Regional Tournament.


Kennedy Elaine Sanders

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