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Marketing their skills
DECA a big draw for South, West students
Some of South Forsyth’s 17 finalists gather for a photo. - photo by Submitted

They may be teenagers, but 101 Forsyth County students showed they know what it takes to compete globally in business and marketing.

The students from South and West Forsyth high schools spent last week developing business strategies, creating marketing campaigns and presenting research at the International DECA competition.

More than 15,000 students attended the April 28-May 2 competition, traveling to Anaheim, Calif., from all over the country and globe, including Canada, Germany and Mexico.

A high school-level marketing organization, DECA encourages the development of business and leadership skills.

Debra Moore, DECA adviser for South Forsyth High, said 69 of her students competed in the event, a new record. Of them, 17 were finalists, placing in the top 10 or 20 in their respective categories.

“It’s unbelievable the caliber of work and presentation skills that you see at a competition like this,” she said. “I would put some of these students up against professionals in their 30s. I really would.”

West Forsyth DECA adviser David Rooney said 32 of his students attended the event, though 41 qualified by placing in the top six at the state level.

While the schools represented the same county and state, they remained in direct competition, which Rooney said served as a motivator for students.

“I just think it makes us both better,” he said. “We set the expectations high.”

South Forsyth students already have some real-world experience, Moore said. In the past eight years, they have worked with more than 30 businesses on advertising design and market research. Students are paid in experience and scholarships.

Senior Katie Waggamon used a local business in her project with partner Ashley Stalnaker.

“We competed in fashion merchandising promotion plan,” she said. “We did a promotional campaign for a small boutique near The Avenue Forsyth, Victoria’s. We did a 15-page manual, 15-minute presentation ... and we also took a 100-question test on fashion merchandising.”
Rooney said West, which opened in 2007, is still developing business partnerships.

“Only being two years old, we haven’t established those relationships with business partners yet to help our kids,” he said. “That’s still something we want to get going.”

Still, West has been represented at the event each of the past two years, with sophomore Megan Whittaker going both times.

Whittaker said she drew on her experience from last year when writing her 11-page paper about building a franchise business. The paper detailed finances, location, demographics and geography of establishing a doughnut franchise.

“I liked the experience, it was extremely competitive in a good way,” said Whittaker, who earned third place at the state level and was in the top 20 percent of international finalists.  

It was also the second year for South Forsyth senior Catherine Knotts, an 18-year-old who serves as vice president of her school’s DECA chapter, touted as the world’s largest.

“DECA ... is really prestigious,” she said. “It’s in a career that I want to go into, so it’s just given me experience and a lot of preparation for what I’m going to encounter in the real world.”

Knotts, who will attend Clemson University next year, said she plans to major in marketing and management, with a focus on sports marketing.

For last year’s event, she competed in the individual sports entertainment category. This year, she paired with friend Jordan Viduna for the sports entertainment marketing team decision-making event.

The two placed in top 10, a feat for which they prepared by taking more than 40 practice tests and reviewing nearly 30 role-play scenarios.

Knotts said she learned last year just how much preparation was required.

“You get to internationals and you have at least 200 other people in your category, and they’re all one through six place winners in their own states [or countries],” she said. “You just get there and you realize that everyone else is just as talented, if not more, than you are. So it definitely encouraged me and my partner.”

The experience likely will be no different when she enters the work force, she said.

“There are going to be so many other applicants that are going to have the same knowledge or the same degree as you are, and everyone’s going to be going out for the same thing,” she said. “You have to have something to set you apart.”

Staff Writer Frank Reddy contributed to this story.

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