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FLHS DECA team heads west for national competition

By Gene Sears

It’s been an uphill battle, but for four Fort Lupton High School students, the results are pure California dreamin’.
    Seniors Jordan Sarazen, Toni McDonnell, Kayla Stieber and Savannah Barry have April plans for the Golden State.
    The quartet are all DECA National Qualifiers this year, based on work they competed at the state level, coming in right near the top, and in perfect form to move up to the national stage.
    “Jordan and I wrote a paper about financial literacy and we took that to state,” Toni McDonnell said. “We competed at state and took fifth place. The top five go to nationals.”

    “Savannah and I competed in ‘program of work,’ which is essentially for the best DECA chapter in the state of Colorado,” Kayla Stieber said. “We took second this year.”
    Held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, the state competition afforded the group an opportunity to show off their business and marketing acumen among peers. Their presence was something of an affirmation in itself, considering the self-motivation it took the group to compete this year. Key to the struggle was the loss of their hugely popular mentor, FLHS marketing professor and DECA advisor Wade Smith. Just two weeks into the school year, Smith suffered an injury that left him sidelined from both teaching and administrating the club. With Smith out and the department scrambling for a replacement, DECA started to fall by the wayside. Correspondingly, participation plummeted as students .
    “Last year, we had over seventy members go to state, and this year we had 11,” Savannah Barry said. “So we saw this huge drop in membership.”
    “For the longest time we didn’t really have an advisor, just a replacement sub,” Toni McDonnell said. “So really, we did most of our projects on our own.”
    “And no one was really pushing it on them, a sub that just came in was trying to tell them what to do,” Jordan Sarazen said. “And they didn’t really have to do it, it wasn’t like it was hurting them.”
    Even the act of getting to the competition this years was fraught with tribulation, when heavy snow resulted in not one but two cars hitting the bus the DECAthletes were riding in, forcing a return to the high school and a reschedule. 
    “We had a heck of a time getting up there,” Stieber said. “The second time a car slid into us, we had to turn back.”
    Despite the long odds, out of 11 participants, nine qualified at state, with four continuing to nationals as top five contenders.
    “Number-wise, we did really well this year,” Stieber said.
    The four attribute the renewed success to a new mentor, FLHS marketing professor Richard Griffith, who came on board after the first semester. In turn, Griffith lays the credit squarely on his students, who carried the DECA torch.
    “The biggest challenge the kids had was the inconsistency that comes from being with three different teachers, especially when two of them (me included) were not as familiar with DECA as we would have liked,” Griffith said. “My background is more in business, not in marketing. In many instances the students had to walk me through procedures, rules and timelines when it came to the DECA Conference. They were very assertive and independent, things we like to see in the business world. I learned many things with them going through the process and in the end we enjoyed a very successful state conference.”
    The stellar results at state mean the quartet moves on to national competition, representing their school at the 2013 DECA conference in Anaheim, an exciting destination that they will pay for with proceeds from the FLHS school store, another DECA plus. While the trip is an amazing reward, the students seem most pleased with their new mentor, who managed to turn the program around just in time.
    “He is an amazing teacher,” Stieber said, about Griffith. “He was a banker for 25 years,” He retired and wanted to share his knowledge of marketing.”
    “Jumping right in and helping us, taking us to state, he really is amazing,” Barry added.
    Fortunately for the kids, Griffith plans to stick around.
    “Absolutely, I plan on continuing to teach business and marketing,” Griffith said. “This is a second career for me and I am very passionate about teaching high school students about business. I am amazed at their projects and the presentations they are able to put together and I like to tell them so. I was fortunate to retire early from the business world and want to share my experience and knowledge with the next generation of business people.”
    According to their official website, DECA is an international association of high school and college students and teachers of marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales and service. The organization prepares leaders and entrepreneurs for careers and education in marketing, finance, hospitality, management, and other business areas
    In service for more than 60 years, DECA aims to improve education and career opportunities for students interested in careers in marketing, management and entrepreneurship. Their current membership includes over 100,000 students and advisers throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guam, The People’s Republic of China, Korea, Japan, and Germany.

Contact Staff Writer Gene Sears at