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DECA's best-Big Sky, Sentinel (Missoula) students head to national business competition in Florida

April 22, 2003View for printing

Twenty-seven Missoula high school students will join some 13,000 of their peers from around the country this weekend at the National DECA Convention in Orlando, Fla.

By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian

Twenty-four of them - 16 from Sentinel High School, eight from Big Sky - qualified to compete at the national level during the Montana convention in Billings in early March. If they do extremely well - and the competition, local advisers say, is fierce - they'll finish in the top 12 in the nation in their category.

Big Sky had a senior, Coreen Johnson, who accomplished that last year in the full-service restaurant management category.

"She'd worked at Jakers for a year and a half," Big Sky DECA adviser Bill Langlas said, "and from busing to serving to cooking, she really knew her stuff. People seem to do best who have worked in their areas. It really makes a difference."

With hundreds upon hundreds of contestants in each category, it's an accomplishment just to make the final 50 who will compete for Top 12 honors.

"And there's not a loser there," Langlas added. "These are all kids who have won in their states." Langlas, adviser at Big Sky for 24 years, has seen four of his students make the top 12 in that time.

Dan Kucera, Sentinel's adviser for four years, is still waiting for his first, but takes his largest contingent ever - 19, compared with nine last year - to nationals.

Both Missoula schools - Hellgate isn't sending anyone this year - like to give students experiences beyond the convention, and so Big Sky's group will hit Universal Studios a day before the convention starts and Disney World the day after it ends. Sentinel will visit Universal Studios a couple of days early, then head to Cocoa Beach for a couple of days in the sun. Those who don't make the finals will visit Disney World on the convention's last day.

"My first year (as adviser) the convention was in Louisville," Kucera said. "I took eight boys to that one, and we ended up seeing the Kentucky Derby. The conference ended on a Wednesday, we ran up to Cleveland, bought some scalped tickets and saw the Yankees play the Indians, visited the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, came back through Cincinnati, saw the Cards play the Reds, then back to Louisville and watched the Derby. It may sound frivolous, but I had one of those kids call me just the other day to thank me again for that - I know they appreciate it."

Students earn about $400 toward the Florida trip by working in school stores their DECA clubs run all year long - profits help fund this trip. They raise the rest of the $300 to $600 themselves, sometimes by soliciting sponsors, sometimes by working outside school, sometimes with help from parents.

Of course, notes Langlas, the cost of the trip does not include what the kids may spend once they hit a mall in Orlando.

DECA - it originally was called the Distributive Education Clubs of America, and kept the acronym even after changing its emphasis - helps high schoolers prepare for careers in marketing and management, but is more than business projects and conventions.

"Throughout the year our kids go into kindergarten classrooms," Kucera said. "They've donated Dr. Seuss books, they go in and talk to the kids about Halloween safety and hand out flashlights before Halloween. ... DECA's not just business, business, business. It's not about turning them into capitalist pigs. There's a lot more to it. One of the points on the DECA diamond is social awareness - an awareness of where we fit into a community - and we do those things, too."

At nationals, they'll compete in what are called either written events or competency events, which involve role playing. Some 3,200 judges are required; Kucera said large corporations such as Wendy's like to provide judges to look for future business stars among the teen-agers.

Next year's convention is in Nashville, Tenn.

Attending from Missoula

Missoula students attending the National DECA Convention on April 26-29 in Orlando, Fla., and the categories they qualified in during the state convention last month in Billings:

Sentinel High School

Kris Guymon and Tanner Court, entrepreneurial written event

Ryan Holman and Ashley Croker, entrepreneurial written event

Adam Kerr and Stephen Flink, learn and earn

Caitlin MacMillen and Danni Lyons, public relations

Colin Marshall and Damien Krebsbach, sports marketing

Ashley Dugdale, business services marketing

Jane Purdy, business services marketing

Kalee Evans, food marketing

Jameson Western, retail marketing

Tyler Cross, vehicles and petroleum

Chelsea Volkerts, apparel and accessories

Three other Sentinel students, Kari Wackler, Jamie Sharkey and Christine German, will attend the convention's Leadership Development Academy.

Big Sky High School

Lindsey Campbell, vehicles and petroleum

Heidi Geil, quick service restaurant

Stefanie Gress, marketing management

C.J. Higginbotham, business services

Mary Jennifer Huffman and Melissa Stephenson, e-commerce

Melissa Paske, retail merchandising

Michelle Rucks, retail merchandising

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or at ... /news06.txt
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