Welcome to Atlanta, DECA Internationals

Senior Joeseph Denklau and juniors Derrien Gatchel and Matthew Freedman take on the city of Atlanta, Ga., to face off against DECA students around the world

Senior Joseph Denklau and juniors Derrien Gatchel and Matt Freedman stand in front of the Olympic Rings in Olympic Park. They stayed in the Atlanta, Ga.s heart, allowing them to attend a variety of local events and visit tourist attractions. “We walked everywhere. We started the first night walking 1.5 miles to Waffle House because Matt put in the wrong location for our order. It sounds like an inconvenience, but honestly, that showed us where everything around the city was since it’s all relatively close together. It set off the trip with a good feel of the city,” Gatchel said.

Photo Courtesy of Derrien Gatchel

Senior Joseph Denklau and juniors Derrien Gatchel and Matt Freedman stand in front of the Olympic Rings in Olympic Park. They stayed in the Atlanta, Ga.’s heart, allowing them to attend a variety of local events and visit tourist attractions. “We walked everywhere. We started the first night walking 1.5 miles to Waffle House because Matt put in the wrong location for our order. It sounds like an inconvenience, but honestly, that showed us where everything around the city was since it’s all relatively close together. It set off the trip with a good feel of the city,” Gatchel said.

After placing in the top five in their sectors at Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) State, juniors Derrien Gatchel and Matt Freedman and senior Joseph Denklau traveled to Atlanta, Ga., to compete against thousands of students in the DECA International Career Development Conference. The contestants spent six days in the city, exploring the culture and applying their skills to various tests and roleplay challenges. In addition, Gatchel and Freedman competed in hospitality, dealing with customer dilemmas, hotel budgets and franchising.  

“Matt and I work well together; we bounce ideas off each other well. Matt is a little more playful, while I’m just slightly more serious. We make each other die laughing, so working with him is so much fun,” Gatchel said.

While Gatchel and Freedman competed cooperatively, Denklau took on his accounting sector solo, advancing to nationals after placing in the top three. 

“I decided that accounting was a more lucrative field than marketing. Accounting is where I’d like to take my business career because I saw the logical and mathematical connections to it,” Denklau said. 

The boys spent the majority of their time exploring Atlanta. Upon arrival, the three attended the Braves baseball game. 

“Matt and I were at the Braves game and [professional baseball pitcher] Kenley Jansen was walking out to close. He has a very mystical aura, and they played his walk-up song called “Welcome to Atlanta,” which represented a lot about the trip and what we were there for. It gave off all the vibes of the trip. The boys were buzzing,” Gatchel said. 

DECA events began the following day when 20,000 students were welcomed into the Mercedes Benz Stadium from around the globe for a ceremony and fireworks. Leaders addressed DECA student council members and gave insight to what the week pertained. To celebrate the start of the competition, DECA rented out Six Flags for all scholars, allowing Gatchel to converse with opponents from across the globe. 

“I met people from Spain, and we had a pretty heated discussion about soccer. It was interesting to hear their perspective and cool to bond with my competition over a common interest, even though we live in completely different countries,” Gatchel said. “I took a lot from the Atlanta culture and people that I met, and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Day three consisted of a 100-question multiple-choice test, in which Gatchel scored in the top 10 followed by a visit to the College Football Hall of Fame and later the Hawks basketball game.

“I didn’t find the questions very challenging. Once you get in a rhythm, you fly through it. It was simple to apply everything DECA has taught me, and I outperformed most,” Gatchel said. “The Hall of Fame was very cool to see and a rewarding experience after sitting for hours.”

As day four approached, the competitors prepared for their roleplay at the Georgia Convention Center. DECA roleplay contests are developed through industry research to reflect current issues and trends in business and industry. In addition, the roleplay and case study scenarios are connected to performance indicators and key concepts from national curriculum standards that students learn during the school year. 

“The scenario we were given this time was unfair. It was based on marine life and we live in St. Louis so we didn’t have the same advantage as people who lived on the coast,” Gatchel said. “Regardless, we have good team chemistry and our ability to expand off of each other was challenged in that scenario.”

The group did not make the semifinals, making that their final competition of the 2022 DECA Season. DECA planned for all students to go on a tour of Chick-Fil-A Headquarters as congratulations, where they learned about the founder and entrepreneurship of the company. 

“It was cool to see the headquarters of a current, very successful business. The biggest part of competitions and conventions like these is to connect with other business students and meet those who are entrepreneurs and on their way to being important individuals in the business world,” Denklau said. “DECA represents the future of business. It is the top of business-minded high school students.”

On day six, the competitors headed back home, taking medals from the multiple-choice top-scoring, knowledge and memories from the trip. 

“Going home I thought that with my [hospitality] experience now, an ideal future career path would be a hotel franchise. As someone who doesn’t know what I want to do, [DECA] helped clear the picture somewhat. DECA has shown me how to communicate effectively,” Gatchel said. 

The contestants were given Longhorn awards for their performance at DECA and a trip to the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City, Mo.

“There was nothing better than to realize I was the leader of a great organization of talented kids. I was proud of myself and Derrien and Matt for the amount of work and talent it took to get to Atlanta, Ga. DECA has expanded my ability to speak publicly. Being comfortable talking about a topic you do not fully understand, but can at least provide an intelligent answer for is an essential skill,” Denkalu said. 

Denklau encourages other students to participate in DECA.

“My advice would be to practice, participate in something you find fun, and not just look at DECA as a completion for [personal development] points [required for marketing classes]. There is an exceptionally talented leadership team leading DECA next year; they will be great assets to the growth and future of Parkway West DECA,” Denklau said. 

My advice would be to practice, participate in something you find fun, and not just look at DECA as a completion for [personal development] points [required for marketing classes]. There is an exceptionally talented leadership team leading DECA next year; they will be great assets to the growth and future of Parkway West DECA.”

— Joseph Denklau

There are various ways to get involved with DECA through marketing classes taught by a business-certified teacher. 

“Finding your passion is essential to success,” Denkalu said. “I would also advise taking advantage of the opportunities that DECA gives. It is amazing that students can compete in business competitions with real-world business professionals. It is a great way to connect and meet new forces with the business industry.”

Gacthel and Freedman will lead next year’s DECA program with juniors Hope Green, Nick Malchanav, Nick Menendez, Jack Goedde, Andrew Martin and Ethan Bub. 

“I have great faith in what they will accomplish. They are the best business students we have, I am proud to leave behind DECA. As its President, I have accomplished a lot and know that next year’s leadership team will accomplish even greater things,” Denklau said. 

Gatchel and Freedman have begun the recruitment process as the future directors for community engagement. 

“We’re trying to get our success rate up and more people competing. We want more people onwards and upwards from state to nationals and anywhere else DECA can take them. Soon we will have more people and more buzz around DECA,” Gatchel said.