Ryan Neece and Zeb Strickland love to argue.
But, their passion for defending a topic goes beyond the trappings of most teenagers.
In fact, if all goes according to plan, it could put them on an early career path.
Neece and Strickland, Moffat County High School seniors, recently placed second in the Emerging Business Issues category at the state competition of Future Business Leaders of America. The placing qualifies them for a slot to represent Colorado at the organization’s National Leadership Conference from June 28 to July 1 in Orlando, Fla.
This is the first year MCHS students have qualified for nationals, FBLA adviser Krista Schenck said.
“For (Distributive Education Clubs of America), we’ve gone to nationals a few times, but this is the first for FBLA,” she said.
Schenck is the high school instructor for both DECA and FBLA. She brought FBLA back to the school six years ago after about 10 years of inactivity.
“We had a lot of leadership opportunities with DECA, but it’s only open for students in marketing classes,” she said. “I teach so many computer classes, accounting and other things for those kids to be involved in and have a club that was kind of co-curricular with that class.”
Before taking part in the state competition April 17 to 19 in Vail, the group participated at events in Fort Collins and Grand Junction.
At state, six MCHS students competed, with Neece and Strickland ranking the highest. Senior Slade Gurr was the third member of the team to make it to the top 10, placing fourth in Accounting.
The top three in the category travel to nationals, making him first alternate.
“He did pretty well at districts, but he did really well at state since he’s had a full accounting year,” Schenck said.
Schenck said Neece and Strickland have had a “phenomenal” year on the team.
“Usually we don’t even make it onstage at state because it’s a lot of Denver schools and a lot of good speakers,” she said. “We do well, but we usually don’t make it in the top 10, but this year, they not only made it to finals but placed second.”
Schenck said the pairing allowed Neece and Strickland to excel.
“They perfected their debate working as a team, and I think that’s what really got them up there,” she said. “They’re judged on how well they can cover their case and how well they can answer questions, things like that. They have four or five competitions with FBLA, four or five for DECA, and I think, 10 to 15 for speech and debate, so they have really had a lot of speaking practice and they’re good. They don’t have a lot of free weekends.”
The category of Emerging Business Issues involves preparing a case about a topic in the business world and either defending it or arguing against it, depending on the results of a coin flip during competition.
The topic for 2011 is the proposed subsidization of environmentally efficient businesses by state and federal government.
Neece and Strickland, the president and historian of FBLA, respectively, are both personally on the affirmative side.
“Right now we’ve got a lot of limited resources and they’re going to run out sooner or later, so we should get a head start in the next few years,” Strickland said.
Their research for the topic, a process they have worked on since the beginning of the school year, has included looking over the findings of an alternative energy consultation firm. Neece said he has also been intrigued by the topic because of his mother’s interest in alternative energy.
“I’ve got a pretty good grounding in it,” he said.
However, they must be prepared to present an opposing viewpoint, as well. Looking at both sides of an issue is something the duo has gotten used to, working as partners on the speech and debate team for the better part of their high school careers.
Strickland said the two of them complement each other well, with Ryan writing much of their case while he edits it.
“We had a pretty good bond and we’re pretty good friends, and I actually got into FBLA because of Ryan,” he said.
Neece said FBLA is a little more applicable to post-high school learning because instead of the hypothetical topics discussed in speech and debate, FBLA employs more “in-depth” subjects regarding current events.
“With FBLA, we focus on business a lot,” he said. “Before this I really had no idea how a business operated. I’ve learned a lot. With FBLA, it’s a little more in-depth and you get a different angle.”
The two of them are both looking to attend Fort Lewis College in Durango after high school, though Strickland wants to complete his associate’s degree at Colorado Northwestern Community College first, pursuing a career as a political lobbyist.
Neece said the topic they are studying plays into his plans for a career.
“Ideally, I want to work at a green technology firm, probably as a lawyer,” he said. “I want to get a business degree and after that, go to law school. Right now I’m looking more into marketing or management.”
In the nearer future, both students are anxious about traveling to nationals.
“I’m really excited to go to Orlando,” Strickland said. “I’ve never really traveled anywhere, and the furthest I’ve been away was for speech and debate in Berkeley, (Calif.). Other than that, I’ve never left the state of Colorado except a couple times my freshman year when I went to Utah for baseball.”
The trip to Orlando isn’t set in stone yet, with funding from the school district unavailable.
Schenck said she is looking to the community to help with the initiative.
“If we get the funding, it’ll really build some enthusiasm for our club, and hopefully we’ll be able to do it again next year,” she said.
Schenck also said she hoped to gain support from local businesses for the trip to promote the impact FBLA has on members.
“I think it gives them a place to take the vocabulary and the knowledge they learn in class and tie it into real world situations and be able to think on their feet,” she said. “It pushes them and it gives them confidence in their upper level classes and the upper level thinking they need.”
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