Students from Adair County represented their community and state well last week at the National FBLA competition in Chicago. The trio of J.B. Piatt, Mattie Willis, and Natalie Gilbert earned an impressive sixth-place finish in the Graphic Design category.
“I’ve just been so proud of this cohort of students and what they’ve achieved,” says JR Thompson, Adair County’s FBLA sponsor. “It’s taken a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort, but it’s been worth the while, and it’s paid off. We’re really, really pleased with how our year went.”
Five Adair students, including the three on the Graphic Design team, qualified for nationals by finishing in the top four at state competition, which was held in Louisville in April. Even to get to state, they first had to compete against other schools from this area in FBLA regional competition.
“Our school has never had that opportunity to even be in this position, so to even be at nationals was a great accomplishment,” Thompson explains. “Students worked hard to be able to get to there. We’ve been really excited because we’ve done so well that we’re hoping the community is seeing that their investment [in these students] was worthwhile and that these are truly the next generation of student leaders for Adair County. We hope they know that they’re getting that bang for their buck.”
Piatt, Willis, and Gilbert qualified for nationals by creating an apparel retail business, Jack Rambles, and presenting their vision.
“They had to pitch that idea to a host of judges in a preliminary round,” Thompson says. “Our goals when we first got there was to go through the prelim round and then if you make it through that you can become a finalist and try to win a national championship.”
After flying to Chicago June 28, the next day saw competitions begin. Hundreds of schools were in attendance, and more than 12,000 individuals registered for the conference. Even against those odds, the Graphic Design team was one of just 15 — out of 106 schools — to make the final round.
“For 95 percent of the schools there, their hope and ambition kind of ended there at prelims, although there were still things to do as far as workshops and networking,” Thompson explains. “But as far as the year of FBLA and all the hard work, that came to an end for most of them. For us, we were able to get an invitation to continue on.”
Finally, the last night of the conference, the Adair group were invited on stage in front of the 12,000 others in attendance, meaning they had at least cracked the top 10. They were later awarded the sixth-place trophy.
“They did such a great job, a phenomenal job,” Thompson gushes. “I’m really proud of them, and I told them, ‘Guys, the fact that you’re here, you’re in the top 15, that’s incredible in itself. You guys are already winners, and you know that you have what it takes to be that business leader that you need to be to survive post-graduation.’”
Thompson says the achievement shows that his students are ready for the next step in their lives, presumably including a career in business.
“They’re all business-minded individuals, and they’re all planning on going into business after graduation,” he says. “They are truly the next generation of leaders not only for Adair County but for wherever life takes them.”
The sixth-place trio were not the only Adair County students who competed at nationals. Two other individuals qualified for the competition as individuals by finishing in the top four at state competition. Connor Prior competed in Networking Infrastructure and Seth Murphy — only a freshman — vied for the title in Retail Management. While neither made the top 15, Thompson says they performed well going against some of the brightest students in the country.
“We didn’t see their scoresheets yet to find out where they ended up placing,” Thompson says. “To even make it to nationals, though, is a huge accomplishment and we’re very proud of them.”
It took an “almost obsessive” hunger for success for the students to make it as far as they did, according to Thompson.
“This journey has really fueled a fire without our students,” he says. “I’ve seen growth in the students professionally and personally. FBLA embraces ethics, character and responsibility, so it’s an organization that will not only do good for them in the moment but it’s developed to impart things into them that will carry them forward for the rest of their lives.”
The students’ various accolades are even more impressive considering none were FBLA members when the school year began. Thompson was also new to his role as a sponsor, as Adair County had not offered the club for several years following Sammy Hughes’ retirement.
“All these students, they didn’t even know what FBLA was before this year,” Thompson says. “Myself, I wasn’t very familiar with the organization either. When we started the school year back in August, I knew it was something we had to do. With us being back in the building and having some sense of normalcy, my number-one goal was to get FBLA off the ground.”
“Get it off the ground” he did. The club featured 40 members this year.
Thompson says there are plenty of people who deserve recognition in helping the students to such an incredible achievement.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to the parents for trusting me with their children and giving me an opportunity to help lead them and guide them to be the next generation of professionals,” Thompson says. “Secondly, I say ‘thank you’ to Adair County and Columbia because they have supported us way beyond our wildest dreams. We were able to fund raise over $10,000 this year, and the majority of that was through donations from our businesses and our community leaders. We would not be where we are if it wasn’t for them, so thank you for believing in us.”
The FBLA sponsor also offered his gratitude to the school administration.
“We want to say thank you to [Supt.] Dr. [Pam] Stephens and to the Board of Education and our administrators for all their support and their trust that they give to me to represent our school,” he says. “We thank the school district as a whole for all they’ve done for us and supporting us to get here. I also have to give a special ‘thank you’ to Mrs. Teresa Giles because she was a tremendous support to me this year.”
Thompson says the finish bodes well for the future of FBLA at ACHS and that he’s ready to improve on this year’s success moving forward.
“We’re just looking forward to continued growth,” Thompson says. “This has been a capstone year, for sure, so we’re looking forward to a greater year of success impacting more students from Adair County next year. We’re looking forward to that, and we’re excited.”