DECA Students Earn Trip to National Championships

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This is the first year in many that Nottingham High School DECA Club Advisor Tom Azzolino has not had any returning students to his chapter of the Distributive Education Clubs of America. That meant he was faced with a group of 20 new students eager to participate in the international program that promotes leadership, academics, public speaking and networking opportunities.
Mr. Azzolino shares the story proudly, because four of these new students recently competed against all DECA clubs in the State of New York and qualified to take part in the International DECA Career Conference in Orlando, Florida. There, they will compete against 30,000 students from all over the nation, as well as from Canada, Guam, China and Italy.
One of these new participants, sophomore Emily Houck, was equally as pleased to hear that she and her partner were advancing in the competition. “We were the last ones to get our finalist medals telling us that we made it to nationals… we didn’t hear them call our names at first! We were so surprised, going to nationals in our first year,” she exclaimed.
After all, this is no easy feat. As Henninger High School DECA Club Advisor Melinda McCarthy explains, in order to make it to States and Nationals, students must first conquer the regional competition, which includes students from most schools in the Central New York region.
“In a typical competitive event, a student or a group of no more than three students will be presented with a business scenario that could involve a number of topics, including restaurant and food services, buying and merchandising, automotive services and more,” Ms. McCarthy explains. Students are given 20 minutes to read the scenario and prepare a business plan in order to present it to the judge. The students also take a test that correlates with their event. At a regional level, the top four competitors advance to the State Competition where they take a new test, read a new business scenario, come up with a business plan and compete with triple the amount of students.
Mr. Azzolino’s students took a different approach to reach the State Competition. After starting off the semester learning about general business practices, students are faced with the task of coming up with the idea for a project they would like to work on. His students then wrote 30-page business manuals discussing a project of their choosing to present to the judges. From practical to ambitious (one group created a plan to sell legacy bricks at their high school, while another researched the steps it would take to open a Yogurtland franchise in Lisbon, Portugal), these research projects serve as a great way to prepare students for the challenges of the competitions.
What initially seems daunting quickly becomes comfortable, thanks to the many hours of preparation students experience. Nottingham Sophomore Rachel Hidek explains, “Going through the research and writing process, you really get to know your stuff. I had never given a 15-minute presentation in my life, and that’s a long time when you get up there! But it’s surprising how much you learn, and you become confident. Now, we’re comfortable.”
Students say that the demands of learning a topic inside out and thinking on their feet is part of what drives them to continue in DECA. Nottingham junior Katie Willard says the club is great preparation for her future. “I have an interest in business and marketing as a career goal. I want to be able to apply the things I’m learning in DECA down the road when I’m a superstar marketing executive! It’s a great opportunity to network and make connections,” she explained.
Her DECA partner, junior Michael Manuel, agreed that the DECA experience is preparing him for his future and will open up new opportunities for him. “I know it will help prepare me for college, because DECA makes people take you seriously and see you as a professional,” he said.
Professionalism and confidence are two skills that all DECA participants agree has been invaluable, even in just their first year of competing. But it’s also helped provide them with life lessons that will carry them far beyond college and career readiness.
Katie, who describes herself as ‘super shy,’ explains the transformation that DECA has brought about in her. “I went to every workshop that they had at DECA, and I found myself taking on leadership roles. I really want to cultivate that—it helped me learn that I’m not just the shy person I think I am!”
Michael agrees, stating that the challenges the competitors face in DECA ultimately help create a more determined mindset. “We’ve learned not to shy away from anything, to do our best with what we have and to keep pushing ahead and not let things distract us or get us down.”

Congratulations to Henninger High School DECA participants Annie Phan, Amy Huynh, Ethan Duncan, Jason Nguyen, Hein San, Daniel Tu, Jim Truong, Anna Wojcik, Lillian Truong, Ismael Diaz, Quynh Le, Jennifer Nguyen, Anhtu Nguyen, Julia Ho and Samantha Cook for representing their school at the State DECA Competition!
Also representing the Syracuse City School District at the State Conference were Nottingham DECA members Lucy Brown, Tia-Marie Campbell, Kinsey Davis-Corr, Michael Edmonds, Kiah Edwards, Sierra Endreny, Kandice Greene, Rachel E. Hidek, Emily Houck, Yanira Johnson, Anan Le, Michael Manuel, Aaron Mlovicz, Amal Mohamud, Ta’nira Newton, Anna Osborne, Levonn Owens, Ananda Aline Packer, Benjamin Tinelli and Kathleen Willard.
At the State Competition, Henninger’s Lillian Truong and Hein San received top 10 in their events and Jim Truong received third place in his event, allowing Truong the opportunity to represent Henninger High School’s DECA Chapter competing at the International DECA Career Conference! Joining Truong at the International Competition will be Nottingham students Michael Manuel, Katie Willard, Emily Houck and Rachel Hidek.