William Hennessy Award
About the Award
For the past seven years, Empire Mock Trial has celebrated the best student competitors in the world. But behind every exceptional student is an educator, teacher, and mentor. Starting on October 18, 2013, Empire Mock Trial began annually honoring one Outstanding Educator. This award is based on more than winning records and championship seasons—it’s based on personal attributes and influence.
But what would an award be without a name? The name is its symbol; it is emblematic of the person it represents. The Pulitzer Price for excellence in journalism and literature is named after renowned journalist Joseph Pulitzer. The National Football League’s Championship Trophy is named after its most accomplished coach, Vince Lombardi. These individuals are immortalized because they represent all that is great about their craft.
So it was only fitting that the Empire Mock Trial Outstanding Educator Award be named after a person who embodies all that is great about an educator. Our honoree is a biological father of four but a parent to hundreds more whom he’s coached over the past three decades. He is the winningest coach in New York State Mock Trial history (but you’d never catch him saying that). He is the long-time coach of the William Floyd High School Mock Trial Program from Mastic Beach, New York. The Empire Mock Trial Outstanding Educator Award will forever be named after William Hennessy.
About the Man
Ask his students why he deserves the award, and past and present Floyd mock trial team members can’t stop gushing about “Mr. H.”
“No teacher played a more influential role in shaping my future than Mr. Hennessy,” said Nora Lovell, William Floyd class of 2002. “Every educator in America should strive to be as dedicated – and successful.”
“He taught me so much about myself without even trying,” said Keri Joeckel, class of 2003. “He sees things in high school students that they have not yet even learned about themselves. Whether he knows it or not, I believe that’s the secret to his success.”
Some of Mr. Hennessy’s success can be measured by victories, championships, and awards. Under Mr. Hennessy’s leadership, Floyd has won its regional and qualified for the statewide tournament 10 times and captured 5 New York State Championships (1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2013). His team remains the only one in New York State history to win four straight Regional Championships, as well as the only team to win back-to-back state titles. At the Empire, Floyd has placed in the top 10 twice. Altogether, his students represent the most successful program in New York State.
As his students earned the spotlight each year, Mr. Hennessy quietly worked behind the scenes, spending hours on the weekends and over breaks poring over mock trial cases. He lobbied to keep the mock trial team alive through severe budget cuts. He kept coaching the team even after he retired from teaching at Floyd.
Students say he challenged them to be better, and led by example.
“He truly lived everything he taught us,” said Emily Vigliotta, class of 2013. “He taught us to be respectful, appreciative, kind, and dedicated.”
“Whether we were on a championship team or not, whether we were lead attorneys or substitute witnesses, whether we went on to careers in law or not, I think it’s safe to say that every student who spent time on William Floyd Mock Trial… has gone on to become a more dedicated, hard-working, team-oriented, and empathetic person,” said Stephanie Suarez, class of 2003.
Yet despite his team’s continued success over the years, Mr. Hennessy was never one to take credit.
“When asked, he always attributes Floyd Mock Trial’s successes to being blessed with bright students who just happen to stumble across his path,” said Joeckel.
“He doesn’t say that to be modest or deferential. He says it because he truly believes that he keeps getting lucky.”
Three decades of students would beg to differ, though. They’ll tell you they’re the lucky ones for having known Mr. Hennessey – to call him a teacher, coach, mentor, and friend.
About the Ceremony
Mr. Hennessy’s surprise award ceremony was scheduled for Friday, October 18th at 6:30 PM. But because he graduated almost his entire team in the spring, Floyd High School did not compete at the Empire in 2013. That put a cramp in Empire Mock Trial’s plans to honor him.
“I had no idea how we’d would lure him to Brooklyn; he lives nearly two hours away in Suffolk County,” said Empire Mock Trial President Justin Matarrese.
But that wasn’t a concern for long.
Because over the summer, Mr. Hennessy called Matarrese and asked if he could volunteer at the event. “I want to help in any way that I can,” Mr. Hennessey said.
When he walked into the grand ballroom for the Empire VII Opening Ceremonies, Mr. Hennessy thought he’d be greeting students, handing out programs, and schmoozing with coaches (as he does so well). He had no idea he what was in store.
After several introductory speakers, the lights lowered in the grand ballroom, and all 625 in attendance hushed. The Emcee began to explain the inaugural Outstanding Educator Award, reading Mr. Hennessy’s biography without revealing his identity until the end. Once his name was announced, a tribute video started that featured testimonials from his former students (see below). When it ended, Matarrese took the stage and asked Mr. Hennessy to look to the back of the ballroom.
Mr. H couldn’t believe his eyes.
Sitting in the back — there all along — were Mr. Hennessy’s wife Evelyn, daughter Colleen, his long-time former Principal Robert Feeney, and graduates Joseph Colarusso (class of 2004), Erin Engelmann (class of 2013), Joeckel and Dakota King (class of 2013). It was all part of the big surprise.
“I wouldn’t miss this,” said Principal Feeney.
“A 6 hour flight was a small price to pay to see the surprise and joy in his face,” said Engelmann, who flew 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to attend the event. “Mr. Hennessy made me the person I am today and I wanted him to know that.”
Matarrese then called the four Floyd graduates in attendance to the stage.
“Mr. Hennessy, it is only appropriate that your former students present you with this honor because you’ve dedicated your life to them.”
Overcome by emotion, Mr. Hennessy took the stage and hugged his students.
“It was like an out of body experience,” he said as he clutched his award tightly. Students say he hasn’t let go of it since.
Empire Mock Trial congratulates William Hennessy. Thank you for your life-long commitment to your students and legal education. It is with enormous gratitude that we dedicate our annual Outstanding Educator Award in your honor.