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DECA team places in top 10 at international competition

The Anaheim Convention Center, where the DECA International Career Development Conference was held. (Courtesy of Ashley Lax)1 / 3
The DECA team poses in front of the Anaheim Convention Center during their competition. Back row: Ryan Purrier, Skylar Lysaker, Calvin Luhrsen, Allison Nowacki, adviser Jay Belcastro and Nathan Mickelson. Front row: Adviser Julie Benson, Ashley Lax, Whitney Wasko, Hannah Johnson and Holly Nowacki. (Courtesy of Ashley Lax)2 / 3
Seniors Hannah Johnson and Skylar Lysaker and junior Ashley Lax, who presented at the DECA competition in Anaheim, pose during the competition. (Courtesy of Ashley Lax)3 / 3

On Tuesday afternoon, the students from the Two Harbors DECA team gathered in an empty classroom in Two Harbors High School. They had arrived just 36 hours before from Anaheim, Calif. and though they appeared exhausted, they chattered excitedly about their trip to the International Career Development Conference over the weekend. The conference also serves as the international competition for DECA students.

"It was the experience of a lifetime," senior Ryan Purrier said.

DECA is an organization that prepares students for careers in marketing, management, finance and hospitality. The students learn skills throughout the year and put them into practice in competition--the THHS students had already participated in regionals and the state competition. Some of the events included public speaking, food marketing and employment interviews, for which THHS students prepared individual presentations.

The team worked on a district-wide anti-bullying campaign, which they dubbed See It, Say It, Stop It. The project involved giving presentations to their peers, asking students to sign pledges and handing out bracelets imprinted with their slogan.

The campaign went well beyond the district--the students packaged their ideas and sent them to districts throughout the region. They also recorded a commercial with FOX21 that will run later this spring. Students from Duluth East and Cloquet will appear in the commercial as well.

The project won the students third place in the public relations category at the state competition earned them the trip to Anaheim, which senior Whitney Wasko described as "a whirlwind."

Not only did the students make it to Anaheim, but they defeated 150 teams to land a spot in the top ten.

"We always talked about how sweet it would be to be called up on stage," Wasko said, but they all agreed they didn't expect it to happen.

When the announcer read senior Hannah Johnson's name, they knew they had made it.

"We all started screaming," Johnson said.

"A lot of the teams walked to the stage...we ran," junior Ashley Lax added.

The team calculated that they were part of an elite group--just .006 percent of DECA students ever grace the stage at the international competition.

"Our students carried themselves with grace, confidence, and integrity," adviser Julie Benson said. She and dean of students, Jay Belcastro, went with the team to Anaheim.

"We all should be proud of their accomplishment, but they did not do it alone. We had wonderful support from our administration, school board, and staff throughout the entire district," she added.

She said other advisers were amazed that the THHS team, which is in its first year of competition, had achieved so much in its inaugural year.

"It was a huge, huge compliment," Benson said.

The team hopes to ensure their See It, Say It, Stop It campaign lasts far beyond this year. They're also brainstorming ideas for next year's competition.

"Thank you to everyone who supported us," Lax said, adding that they couldn't have succeeded without their parents, advisers and supportive community members.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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