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Posted: Tuesday, Mar 16th, 2010

The Waldport High School DECA business club made $12,000 last summer renting kayaks and leading tours of Lint Slough on the Alsea Bay. DECA students placed second in the prestigious “Learn and Earn” category at the state wide DECA competition in February for the business manual they wrote for the business. Club members travel to Louisville, Ky. in April for the national competition. (Courtesy photo)
Waldport High business club headed to national competition

Young entrepreneurs from Waldport and Taft high schools might be few in numbers, but they’re scoring big in state business competition, and one is making a run to be the national president of DECA, the international association of marketing students.

Despite not having a business teacher and being forced to meet after school, the Waldport DECA club took second at the State Career Development Conference in Portland Feb. 20-23 in the prestigious “Learn and Earn” category for its Kayak Shack. For the national competition, the club plans to take what they learned at state to hone their 30-page business manual to perfection.

The Kayak Shack is no academic exercise. Located on the Alsea Bay in Waldport, the Shack rents sit-on-top Cobra kayaks and leads guided tours of Lint Slough, part of the Alsea River Trails network. DECA students took over the business two years ago and last summer doubled its income to $12,000 in two and a half months. Students credit the impressive revenue jump to marketing targeted at areas with high tourist traffic, increased public relations with local fundraising groups and a new, high-visibility location at the Port of Alsea.

Managing 25 student volunteers (all profits go in the club treasury) gave DECA staff a crash course in trials and tribulations of managing a workforce.

“I’d get calls at midnight saying ‘I can’t work tomorrow,’” said Waldport DECA president Maddie Webb. “Spending over 300 hours there this summer, I learned a lot about time management, flexibility and the hard side of running a business and definitely leadership skills.”

Webb, 17, a senior, plans to major in sports medicine with a minor in business at Linfield College or Pacific University after graduating in the spring.

DECA Students compete in dozens of different categories at conferences. Judges come from real world businesses and organizations. Role-playing a business scenario with a judge who has “been there, done that” is an intimidating experience, the students say.

“What I’ve done in DECA has made me confident in my other classes,” said WHS senior Larry McElroy, 17, who plans to attend Northwest Lineman College in Meridian, Idaho.

Watching other DECA students getting to travel to national competition inspired WHS senior and club treasurer Mercedes Butchas, 18, to join the club two years ago.

“I’ve always been interested in owning my own business, and I thought it would be beneficial to my future to be part of it,” said Butchas, who heads for the University of Oregon to study architecture after graduation. “It’s taught me the skills to run a business and how to deal with customers.”

Fellow Waldport DECA members Joel Waterman and Jacob Woods will represent WHS in the business law and ethics competition at the National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky in April.

Presidential aspirations

Entrepreneurship has been coursing through Taft High School senior Anne Marie Sketch’s blood from an early age.

“I had a pretend mud pie restaurant,” Sketch, 17, recalls with a laugh.

She is finishing her term as the Oregon DECA president and heads to Louisville with the goal of being elected National DECA president. At the state conference in February, she took third in the retail-merchandising event and scored a first place win in a role-playing event as a marketing consultant advising a small local business how to compete with a national chain moving in across the street.

In addition to state president, Sketch has also served as the statewide publicity director during her four years in DECA. For the past three summers, she’s attended a young entrepreneur business week at Oregon State University.

“I’ve learned about marketing, working with teams and how to work to with people who may not have the same working style,” Sketch said.

If elected national president, she will travel extensively as an ambassador for DECA and liaison with the 65 companies DECA partners with. DECA chapters across the country raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association ($500,000 last year), and the national president presents a check to Jerry Lewis during the annual Muscular Dystrophy telethon.

Sketch puts her knowledge to use working at Aeropostale at the Tanger Outlet Center in Lincoln City and her own business. Along with her mother, Mary Jo Sketch, Anne Marie invented a cushion shoe insert to prevent blisters and markets it through their Heel the Sole business.

“I just can’t say enough as a parent about the program,” Mary Jo Sketch said. “It’s an invaluable program. I wish more kids would advantage of it.”

After majoring in business administration and political science in college, Sketch plans to start her own business and become a state senator.

Waldport DECA advisor Brian Gardner said participation in the club motivates students by giving them a chance to dream about the future, as well providing an opportunity for accomplishment.

“I’m excited by taking the kid who has a hard time shaking your hand and looking you in the eye and having that student go in and do something they’re absolutely terrified to do, to do that role play with a judge, and walk out the other side,” Gardener said. “It changes how they look at themselves. It’s a real confidence booster to walk out of there saying ‘I can do something I’m afraid of and survive and sometimes I can even succeed.’”

The future of the DECA program at Waldport looks grim. Gardner, the former WHS vice principal, moved to a grant funded position at the school district office this year because of budget cuts, so the DECA club has been meeting on Wednesday nights. Gardener said funding for his position runs out at the end of the school year.

Reporter Larry Coonrod can be reached at 541-265-8571 ext 211 or editor@southlincolncountynews.com.

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