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SWR students earn spot at national business competition

04/11/2016 2:00 PM |

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At Shoreham-Wading River High School, two students are going where no other students in the district have gone before — the Distributive Education Club of America’s national competition, which will test their abilities on business-sector skills like public speaking, finance and sales pitches. 

One of those students, senior Bobby Torres, placed second overall in the business finance event at the 56th annual state competition, which was held in Rochester in early March. Junior Melissa Manzello came in third overall in the apparel and accessories marketing competition. Both will now compete in the national competition, which takes place in Nashville later this month.

“It was really exciting for both of the kids because they’ve been trying to make nationals since they were in 10th grade,” said Melissa Cosgrove, the high school’s DECA adviser. “I’m so proud of them. They did such an awesome job.”

DECA is an after-school program with 3,500 high school chapters in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guam, Germany, Spain and China. According to the organization’s website, it aims to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for the future.

Throughout the school year, members study and then compete in an event of their choice. There are more than 50 events within five subjects — finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, hospitality and tourism, and business management and administration — to choose from.

This year, Shoreham-Wading River’s club has 62 students, 16 of whom attended last month’s state competition. Of those, Ms. Cosgrove said, 10 students — including Melissa and Bobby — won trophies.

Both Melissa, 16, and Bobby, 17, competed in events that consisted of a 100-question multiple-choice test and two role-play scenarios. The latter differ based on event and can include everything from giving public speeches, sales demonstrations and financial advice to creating advertisements for print, television or radio. Students receive individual test scores and are given an overall score after they finish role playing.

“I was shocked to come in third,” Melissa said, adding that speed is a factor when taking the exam. “I never know how I’m going to do … Once I was in the top 10 for all three of those, I had a feeling there was a possibility.”

According to Ms. Cosgrove, the feat is something both students have been working toward since they joined DECA their sophomore year.

“There was happiness that I managed to get to that level,” Bobby said. “I knew I did very well in competition, so once I got on stage at the award ceremony I was relieved and excited.”

In order to prepare for the competition, club members began taking practice exams and role playing early in the school year.

Ms. Cosgrove added that some categories, mainly those that don’t require tests — like a number of hospitality and public speaking events — are unique to New York State, meaning those participants can’t qualify for nationals. 

Melissa’s role play scenarios entailed launching a series of stores across the country, working with judges who represented overseas companies on sales and keeping on top of the latest fashion trends. She said she will continue to participate in DECA her senior year of high school and plans to major in business in college.

“I think for me, it was cool because I was kind of like, ‘Maybe I’ll study business in college,’ ” Melissa said of her mindset when she joined DECA last year. “It led me to find what I want to do and it’s something I feel like I’m naturally good at.”

Bobby’s role playing scenarios, which he had just 10 minutes to prepare for, consisted of balance sheets and number crunching. He had to advise the competition’s judges, who acted as business owners, about whether they should buy or invest in a specific product or company.

After Bobby graduates this year, he will head to Penn State, where he plans to major in finance and participate in collegiate DECA.

“It’s taught me a lot about leadership roles,” said Bobby, who is also the club’s president. “And a lot of using what I know in competitive senses, which to me is a really good preparation for working in that field.”

Caption: Shoreham-Wading River High School DECA club members. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

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