McKINNEY — With deluges of “thunder sleet” behind them and spring break only days away, it’s safe to assume that few teenagers are thinking about U.S. foreign trade policy. But for five Austin-bound McKinney Boyd High School students, that topic will consume the better part of their vacation next week as they compete in the UIL State Cross-Examination Debate Meet to be held March 10-15 on the campus of the University of Texas.

Ryan Sandmann, Robert Sean O’Neill, Grayson Butler, Jaime Alvarez and alternate Blaine Maher make up the two Cross-Examination Debate teams from Boyd who will represent not only their campus but all of McKinney ISD in the state competition.

“The UIL Cross-Examination Debate State Meet is celebrated as the largest high school debate tournament in the nation,” said Boyd debate coach Denise Hendricks. “Thousands of students from across the state of Texas compete each year in Cross-Examination Debate.”

The matter to be argued? “The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic engagement toward Cuba, Mexico or Venezuela.”

Teams of two will square off on this issue through several rounds of competition with one side arguing the affirmative and the other endorsing the negative. The objective is to present a solid case for one’s argument while exposing weakness in the opposing view through rigorous cross-examination.

No one knows until moments before the debate which stance he or she will argue, so preparation is key, and the Boyd teams have been getting ready for this since Christmas.

“We practice so much, and we do so much research that eventually whatever topic is put on us, we will be ready for it. So, that’s the goal – to be ready for anything that comes at you,” said Sandmann, a junior.

It’s a competition for quick thinkers who can adapt on the fly. The event follows a rigid time structure, so there is little opportunity to map out strategy once the debate is underway. “It’s all very time-oriented,” said Sandmann, “so you’ve got to be quick.”

And, a bit of obstinance comes in handy as well. “You have to be very stubborn. If you get a wrong point, you can’t back down. You can’t be like, ‘You’re right,’ and just give up. You’ve got to be stubborn and be attacking the whole time.”

As the argument unfolds, a panel of judges assesses the persuasiveness of each speaker.

“The judges vote in the way in which the debater persuades the judge to vote,” said Hendricks. “The burden on the debater is is to explain all of the real world issues following the framework to make policy. The debater’s job is to persuade the judge to vote in his or her favor by maintaining one’s position, all while discrediting his or her opponent’s position.”

Accomplishing that is no easy task when facing off against the best debaters in the state, but if preparation and commitment are essentials for success, the teams from Boyd should be in good shape.

“Those guys are super dedicated,” said Hendricks. “You have them in football coming in with their shoulder iced and still getting up and doing this all day on Saturdays. It’s amazing to me the dedication they have – eight days a week.”

So, while their peers are kicking back for a week of fun and relaxation, these five young men from McKinney Boyd High School will be locking mental horns with their gifted counterparts in Austin – debating economic policy.

This spring break is not for the faint of heart.

For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or


About McKinney ISD

One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,750 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, four alternative schools and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at