Michael Hicks, Kenshandra Mitchell, Holly Netz and Lauren Mahaney (above) were one of seven teams competing in the national finals of the Labor and Employment Trial Advocacy Competition, hosted by the American Bar Association in late January 2020. They had earned a trip to the finals in New Orleans by placing second in the regional competition in New York earlier in the school year.
Coaches Mitch Moore ’19, John Pizzo ’14 and Kevin Connoley ’17, attorneys with Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, accompanied the team to New Orleans.
The team’s travel story.
Pizzo: After meeting at the College of Law at 5:20 a.m. on Friday (January 24) and driving to Pittsburgh, our flight to Chicago was on time and thankfully uneventful. That was the end of the good news. Our 10:35 a.m. flight from Chicago to New Orleans was delayed no less than nine times because of fog.
As the delays continued, we started to come to grips with the possibility that the flight to New Orleans—and our competition hopes—might be outright canceled. We began by searching for different flights or other airports that we could drive to and catch a flight. We were unable to find an alternative arrangement.
Sometime around 3:00 p.m., we began to discuss the possibility of driving to New Orleans (about 1000 miles away). We had one main dilemma: if our flight is still scheduled to take off at some point, when do we commit to a 14-hour drive? We decided to set a drop-dead time to make the decision: 4:35 p.m. At 4:16 p.m., we received a text message that our flight was delayed until 5:35 p.m., so we pulled the trigger.
Mahaney: I think all of us were terrified that we weren’t going to make it, but we would rather try to get down there to compete rather than missing it completely. At that point, at least we could say that we tried to go rather than giving up in Chicago.
Netz: We were all just looking at each other. We knew we were driving, but we had no idea if making the decision to drive would be a good idea or not.
Pizzo: Of course, we had no baggage because it was in a plane sitting on the tarmac in Columbus, Ohio. The team needed clothes for the competition and that there would be no place to buy clothes at 7:00 a.m. when we arrived in New Orleans. We “Ubered” to Macy’s in Chicago while Kevin secured our rental vehicle. Then we all met at Macy’s and began the 14-hour trek south.
[Moore stayed behind in Chicago hoping to track down the team’s luggage.]
Hicks: Although none of us were looking forward to such a long car ride on short notice, and with none of our personal effects, we knew we had to do it for ourselves, our coaches, the College of Law and West Virginia legal community in general.
Mahaney: For the first half of the trip, there was so much uncertainty about whether we would make it, if we could even put on two full trials when we got down there. By 4 a.m., we were in Jackson, Mississippi, and that was the moment that I think we realized we may actually make it to the trial. We were driving into New Orleans as the sun was rising, and we all started to wake up and get ready for the fact that we were about to have to compete all day.
Pizzo: Kevin (Connoley) and I switched off driving through the night, with a nice break when Lauren (Mahaney) drove. Sleep varied: some got a little, some got less—no one got enough. We arrived at the hotel in New Orleans at 7:00 a.m., with just enough time to check-in, freshen up, change, and get to the courthouse for the 8:00 a.m. start of the competition.
The WVU Law team competed valiantly, despite the travel challenges, ultimately tying for 5th place in the overall competition out of 64 teams nationwide, including the regional rounds.
Mitchell: We didn’t advance to the semifinals, but we did a great job under the circumstances. You could barely tell we were stressed, sleep deprived, and had no time to practice the night before.
Mahaney: We didn’t end up moving on to the top 4, but we were so proud of the fact that we just got in the car and were determined to make it. I think most of us agreed that we had worked so hard at regionals to make it to the national competition and we had worked so hard in the weeks leading up to Nationals, that we wanted our chance to compete even if that meant we had to compete without all of our trial materials.
Pizzo: To add a little insult to injury, we did not receive our baggage until 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, and the team’s connecting flight home was again delayed by—you guessed it—fog.
In the end, it was an adventure we all shared and, I am sure, remember forever—both fondly and not so fondly. The team truly persevered. They could have easily given up and no one would likely have questioned that decision, but they committed to doing what needed to be done to get to the competition and represent themselves and WVU to the best of their ability, just as they committed to working so hard on this competition all along.
Connoley: Despite all of the difficulties, the team competed very well and we made the best of a tough situation and had a terrific time in New Orleans.
All's well that ends well.