Return to Headlines

Competing and Winning during a Pandemic: LEHS DECA Students Win at State

March 18, 2021


Sometimes spring break is more than rest and relaxation. For ten Little Elm High School DECA students, they learned their fate from the State Career Development contest. Senior Cole McCluskey and Sophomore Noel Henry were winners at the Texas DECA State Career Development Contest. The teams of Sarah Jones and Morgan Miller, Lauryn Brown and Sydney Bodily, Annabella Riatti and Yaiza Laraurri, and individuals Max Geiser and Lucas Roper were all alternates (second place) finishers. Rodger Hutley, business marketing teacher and DECA sponsor, explains how competition this year is nothing like he has seen in the more than 20 years he’s been in education. 

What is the State Career Development contest? DECA is an association of marketing students. The purpose of DECA is to prepare students for success in Marketing, Finance, Hospitality, and Management (see attached fact sheet). One of the components of the DECA experience is the competition between students from the various High Schools that have DECA chapters.The Association levels for DECA are District, State, and International, and each hold competitions. Among the states and international territories, the Texas Association had the largest number of High School DECA chapters with 256 High Schools and over 15,000 members in 2019-2020.  

What was different about it this year than in previous years? Typically DECA competition takes place in person at a convention center and our students spend two nights in a Hotel out of town.  In a normal year, in addition to competing at our State Career Development Contests, students learn to network, visit the college and business exhibitors, listen to DECA officer candidates pitch themselves, eat together, and enjoy live entertainment. The experience is similar to one that a business person would experience at a major industry convention. This year due to the pandemic all of our competitions were virtual. Our students conducted role plays and defended written business and marketing plans by recording themselves and submitting videos. Our judges, recruited from the business community, viewed the videos remotely grading the student's performance to determine winners. We gathered at the school for dinner to watch the opening ceremony and heard a concert but many students still had their jobs to go to. In a normal year, everyone would have asked off work to attend DECA state!

What were the kids thoughts about finally getting to compete, given that last year we had to scratch it all after spring break? Little Elm DECA members, like all of our students, have been troopers throughout the process of attending school during a pandemic. Our students were sad to lose the experience of travel and missing school to compete. But they also have a desire to succeed. Little Elm DECA members have received a lot of notice from colleges both in Texas and out of state over the years and are recruited by some of the best business school programs in the country. For motivated students, this knowledge keeps them working hard during these unusual times. A perfect example is that our videos for the state competition were due during the time of the snow and ice storms. We were given extensions to get them in but we still had students in homes without power somehow getting it together to get their projects submitted on time. I was very proud. 

Was this all virtual? What was that like? The competitions were virtual and since we suspected they would be early on, the other business teachers and I gave assignments in the first semester to prepare students to shine remotely for competition. When competition rolled around our students were ready. Our one-to-one laptop program is an absolute advantage for students from Little Elm vs. some other schools. 

How many schools did they compete against? What's next for them, in terms of DECA competition -- usually you go to nationals. We have not been told what the final numbers were for the state participation this year but many districts are much less open than Little Elm ISD.  Some teachers around the country don't even have access to their schools to get their DECA blazers. Little Elm saw its membership drop about 20% but our number of competitors was similar to previous years. We had 57 students compete at District, 29 students won at district (4 of whom are at-home-learners) which is one more than last year. We had two winners and 8 finalists (second place) which is a new record in the total awards for Little Elm at State.  We also had two school-based enterprises receive gold re-certification and most DECA teachers didn't even try and just shut their school businesses down. So all in all, in my opinion, Little Elm did well. Our International Competition will be held virtually in April with results in May. We earned quite a few spots to send students to International. Our two state winners will attend, and students will represent us in leadership academies due to our chapter awards for our community service, project, promotion campaign, and entries in global entrepreneurship week competition. We also will have students attend to present our plans for the two school stores. However, since the kids would be going to Anaheim in a normal year and are now going to be virtual in Little Elm, there is a little disappointment that we will not get to see Mickey Mouse this year.