The courtroom drama was simulated, but the competition—and the pressure—was very real.

Thirty teams of eighth graders would have their day in court at the annual Collin County Bar Association Mock Trial competition held on February 16–17 at the Collin County Courthouse.

While the docket was filled with talented teams, there could be only one champion.

That was a team from Cockrill Middle School made up of eighth graders Megan Benner, Brady O'Conner, Sarah Knowlton, Madison Blackson, Diana Zapanta, Harley Bower, Savannah Nolan, Aaron Lam, Ethan Lee and Joseph Pentony. They claimed the school’s first ever victory in the intensive, two-day litigation competition that included teams from all five McKinney ISD middle schools as well as teams from Plano, Allen, Leonard and Princeton.

It was a great day for Cockrill as eighth grader Brady O’Conner earned the Best Attorney award during the championship round, and teammate Sarah Knowlton grabbed the Best Witness award. A second Cockrill team also advanced to the semifinal round, giving Cockrill half of the final four spots.

“The competition was stiff,” said Cockrill Gifted and Talented ELAR teacher Sara Gray, who served as the faculty sponsor for her school’s three teams. “I could not be more proud of our students as a group. It really speaks to their dedication and the young adults that they are becoming.”

Dedication—perhaps as much as talent—is key in mock trial. Teams put in hours upon hours of preparation, and for the six weeks leading up to the competition, the groups from Cockrill spent every Friday evening and Saturday morning working together to prepare for their trials.

Every team received the same case to prepare in advance and had to be ready to compete on trial day as either the plaintiff or the defense. They wouldn’t know until shortly before they entered the courtroom which position they would argue.

This year, the teams were faced with a hypothetical civil case involving a car service being sued by an injured customer. In preparation for the event, the teams received the facts of the case and statements from plaintiff and defense witnesses as well as other pieces of evidence.

“It was a tough case,” said Gray. “It was really, really hard for the kids. Lots of moving parts, lots of connections to make. I was told by our coaching attorneys that the kids were learning second year law. Pretty intense.”

Gray added that the mentoring her students received from attorneys Ray Murphy and Lucas Henry of Abernathy, Roeder, Boyd and Hullett proved to be invaluable to their success. “They donated countless hours of advice, guidance and resources to our students, and they stretched participants beyond what the kids believed to be possible,” said Gray. That, in her opinion was one of the greatest benefits her students took away from the competition.

Megan Benner played the role of one of the team’s attorneys and earned a Best Attorney award along the way. “Through Mock Trial, each and every individual has grown and learned so much,” Megan said. “Going into [the competition], I really doubted myself and questioned if I was good enough, but throughout the process, I received so much support that I became confident in my abilities. This experience has been challenging, but to do it with my friends made it all the more fun. … We panicked, stressed, sweated, cheered, laughed and even cried together. This whole experience has shown me that hard work truly pays off.”

Mock Trial calls upon students to apply critical thinking skills at a level that some of them have never experienced before. “[During the trial], it’s constantly moving,” said Gray. “It really requires them to use critical, on the spot thinking skills and speaking skills, especially for our attorneys and our witnesses who are on the stand because opposing counsel isn’t being nice to them. They’re trying to corner them.”

The team from Cockrill, however, proved difficult to corner. And, they finished stronger than they started.

“The kids come out different on the other side,” said Gray. “They’re stronger. They’re more confident. They feel capable. I have kids that will cry and tell me they didn’t know they could do this. It’s the most powerful teaching piece that I do all year with eighth grade.”

In addition to the winning Mock Trial team from Cockrill, the following students from Dowell, Evans, Faubion and Scott Johnson Middle School earned Best Attorney and Best Witness awards for their performance in the competition rounds of Mock Trial…

Dowell

Best Attorney—Avery Leblanc (2 Rounds), Peyton Childs, Maddi Pogacnik

Best Witness—Braxton Wade, Kaylee Sutton

Evans

Best Attorney—Elijah Whitson, Hope Monte

Best Witness—Collin Payne, Ethan Vuong, Kynda Henry, Joshua Kim, Isaac Fisher, Levi Ardilla, Alex Plosca, Riley Anderson

Faubion

Best Attorney—Olivia Austin (2 Rounds), Brennan Barnes, Olivia Nair

Best Witness—Arden Cravy, Anna Green, Jacob Suttle, Trey Davis, Korbin Snellgrove

Scott Johnson

Best Attorney—Christa Louthan (2 Rounds)

Best Witness—Ailed Garza, Amaya Allen, Noah Alevi, Alyssa Jasso

For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or smauldin@mckinneyisd.net.