Williamstown High School students prepare for DECA National competition

29 WHS students vie for podium spots at DECA national tournament in Orlando, Fla.

This year has been a banner one for Williamstown High School. Last fall, the football team captured the South Jersey Group V championship and had an appearance for the state championship at MetLife stadium in East Rutherford. Winter season saw Paige Colucci became the first female regional wrestling champion in school history en route to a fourth-place finish at the state tournament. This spring, the WHS DECA chapter is sending 29 students to the national competition in Orlando, Fla.

DECA is a co-curricular business and marketing club that is only open to students who are enrolled in business courses. There are more than 3,500 high school DECA chapters in the country totalling more than 200,000 students.

The Williamstown DECA chapter was founded in 2006 by Elizabeth LaPalomento. In the inaugural year, she had 65 students. Since then, the club has grown exponentially, peaking with 220 members in 2016 but staying consistently over 180 since then.

The chapter participates in at least five community service events each year, including “Haunted High School,” a CHOP toy drive, students vs. faculty basketball game, “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, “Tape a Teacher,” “Spirit Week for Unity” and a community cleanup.

One of the cornerstones of the year for DECA members is competition season. First is the regional competition, which is all South Jersey chapters. The competition has 30 events students can choose from. LaPalomento said the competition is similar to the Olympics in that the tournament has different events. Some examples of events at a DECA competition are automotive services marketing, food marketing, sports and entertainment, international business or entrepreneurship promotion. The events include a 100-question test, role play scenarios or a presentation on a research paper.

The events are scored by a volunteer judge, and the winners move on to the state competition that combines the three state regions. The top three from the state competition will move on to the national competition ,which will have representatives from all 50 states, Canada and other delegations.

While the Williamstown DECA chapter is in its 14th year, it is still the proverbially new kid on the block in the state competition. LaPalomento gave credit to other programs in the state, but mentioned they do well comparatively.

“I’ve been very proud of this chapter and district because we’re making a name for ourselves academically,” she said. “Our kids are not only making a name academically, but they carry the same school spirit they have at football, soccer and basketball games. They carry that into the award session – every time a Williamstown name is called, the entire school is on their feet cheering. We get looks from the other schools like ‘Who are these people?’ And it makes me proud of the support they show each other.”

With the 2019 competition season underway, LaPalomento said she brought 170 members to the regional competition. From there, 97 moved on to the state level, and 29 of those are heading to nationals.

The national competition is set for April 27 to May 1 in Orlando. Junior Morgan McNulty, a two-time national qualifier, will be competing for entrepreneurship promotion. Her project is called “Think Tank,” a nod to the hit TV show “Shark Tank.”

Her research involved discussing entrepreneurship with high school and middle school students while giving them an activity to complete. McNulty took her findings and compiled a 20-page paper she will present at the national stage.

“I love entrepreneurship, it’s something I want to get into when I’m an adult,” she said. “I love the show ‘Shark Tank,’ and I was like, ‘That’s a perfect activity to do with the kids.’ So I thought it would be a really fun way to reach out to kids in the high school and middle school and do a creative project with them and have a lot of fun.”

She described the competition as an adrenaline rush, citing the months of preparation leading up to the presentation. Her goal for the national competition is simple.

“Get some DECA glass!” she said bluntly.

DECA glass is awarded to the top three contestants in each event. Each event has more than 200 contestants. LaPalomento said in her 14 years at WHS she had five national qualifiers, which is top 25 in the nation. To have someone finish in the top three would be unprecedented for Williamstown.

Juniors Emily Horcher and Sydney Jones will be taking the trip to the national competition, but they will not be competing. DECA offers a leadership academy for some members to teach more about the program and how to excel in different areas of business. The two look to use the lessons learned this year at nationals to help them succeed next year.

Like Horcher and Jones, DECA president and senior Brian Seay made the trip to nationals last year for the leadership academy. This year, he will be competing for glass with his project “The Empire Gives Back,” which marries a love for Star Wars and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Through his project, Seay has generated $1,200 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Seay has had a busy senior year, taking nine periods of classes in lieu of taking a lunch or study hall. He is looking forward to enjoying himself on the trip to the national competition.

Before LaPalomento came to the high school, there was no DECA. In a short 14 years, her vision has witnessed more than 1,000 members and has brought more than 100 kids to the national competition. She said this year one in 10 kids is a member of DECA.

“It’s great, it’s really expanded,” she said. “The kids have opened up to it. The administration at the building level has been super supportive toward it.”

Williamstown’s DECA Chapter had three national finalists with Brielle Iannaco and Kaitlyn Lathrop finishing in the top 20. James Cutts finished in the top 10, a feat that has never been done at Williamstown before.