DECA: International Competition

Kelly Thomas, Noah Mellette and Carlie CauthenNoah Mellette has a clothing line, complete with a website from which you can order his t-shirts. With the help of friends Kelly Thomas and Carlie Cauthen, he'll be pitching a growth plan for his business in a 20 minute speech later this month in Nashville, Tennessee.

Laura Brummett and Katelyn Clarke have a great marketing plan for a minor league baseball team – how to use the team's brand to bring more people to games. They too will be in Nashville in a few short weeks to pitch that plan.

Zach Gordon and Matthew Dalrymple are also going to Nashville, where they'll “role play” various marketing situations in front of a crowd of people.

If all this already sounds impressive, now consider the fact that Mellette, Cauthen, Thomas, Brummett, Clarke, Gordon, and Dalrymple are all just high school students in Lee County. These seven – and eight more – are headed to Nashville at the end of April for the DECA club international competition.

So what's DECA anyway? Well, these students know it as a competitive marketing club. Both Lee County High School and Southern Lee High School have chapters totaling about 250 students. But a broader view reveals DECA to be an organization with “a nearly 70-year history” that aims to prepare “emerging leaders and entrepreneurs.” It is comprised of 215,000 members at 3,500 high schools across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

Rene Gilstrap“I'm planning to study marketing at N.C. State,” said Southern Lee Senior Renee Gilstrap, who will also attend the Nashville competition. “Before DECA I didn't know what I wanted to do, but after I created this imaginary company and had to learn how to convince people that they should buy from us – DECA helped me find what I want to do in college.”

Julie McNeill, Southern Lee's DECA adviser, said the 15 students (11 from Southern Lee High, 4 from Lee County High) attending the international competition placed at the state competition this year, and the district
competition before that.

There are a variety of ways to compete: Dalrymple and Gordon, a junior and senior at Lee County High respectively, will participate in role playing competitions based on marketing situations. They'll also take a 100 question test (remember, this is voluntary).

“They'll give us a scenario for a marketing problem and we have to roleplay it out,” Dalrymple said.

“It tends to be the same sort of things, but in different ways,” said Gordon, noting this would be maybe his 20th roleplay. “It's about knowing how to connect with people and how to sell your ideas, whatever they might be.”

Meanwhile, Mellette, Cauthen and Kelly, all seniors at Southern Lee High, will present a growth plan for Mellette's actual business, Prosper Clothing. Their 20 minute presentation will be based off of a 30 page paper the trio wrote together (remember, this is voluntary).

“We went through each page of the paper and pulled out main points that we could elaborate on in a presentation,” Cauthen said. “Being in Nashville is going to really give Noah an opportunity to expand his business.”

Katelyn Clarke and Laura BrummettClarke and Brummett, both juniors at Southern Lee High, will present a marketing plan they came up with to (fictitiously) present to minor league baseball's Hickory Crawdads (both are avid baseball fans and thought they'd stand out to judges by focusing on a topic they said might traditionally appeal “more to boys”).

“We'll present the plan to the judges as if they're the owners of the team,” Brummett said. “It's going to be very tough – there are tens of thousands of competitors, so we hope to at least get proficiency.”

“We tried to make sure our ideas were realistic, like finding ways for the team to pair with organizations like the Special Olympics,” Clarke explained.

McNeill, the adviser for the Southern Lee High chapter, and Justin Wilkinson and Tony Bloedorn, the advisers for Lee County High's chapter, are all teachers in the schools' respective academy programs. And while there's no formal affiliation between the academies and DECA, it's not exactly accidental that they involve many of the same people.

“We encourage our academy students to get involved in DECA because it gives them more opportunities to learn about the subjects they're learning about in class already,” Bloedorn explained.

McNeill said that Lee Countians should be proud of their DECA students, given the voluntary nature of the organization.

“It's so good to see our students doing this on their own in their own time,” she said. “Some schools in places like Raleigh have an actual DECA class where students work on this stuff all semester. I'm proud that our kids go and compete with kids who have been working on this all year.”

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