IRSD students pose for a photo after winning third and sixth at a national BPA event.

For the Indian River School District, the secret strategy of winning the Business Professionals of America national competition seems to be development of talent early in students’ educational careers — much like the farm league system in baseball. In fact, high school students at Indian River High School adopted and trained middle-school competitors, including those from Selbyville Middle School, to help them ride to victory.

At the BPA National Leadership Conference competition held in Dallas, Texas, on May 3-8, Indian River High School had stellar performances.

Lanaya Haynes won third place nationally in Advanced Interview Skills. Jordy Estrada, Kris Meister, Alex Quinn and Jack Jestice took home third place nationally on their IRHS Economic Research Team. Vicky Chan won sixth place nationally in Fundamental Accounting.

From Selbyville Middle School and earning second place nationally in Extemporaneous Speech in the Middle Level division of BPA, was Kaitlyn Kopf.

“We did pretty well here,” said Jeffrey D. Bunting, a business education teacher at IRHS and the BPA club faculty advisor for the past 10 years. “We work with our BPA advisory committee,” including local business leaders, “pretty regularly, and integrate them to help train these kids and also provide feedback in dress rehearsal for state competition. We do debriefs on that skill before nationals. Presentation is the key” to winning, he said.

In addition, a number of IRHS students were recognized for community involvement and service, with the Torch Ambassador National Service Award: Misty Hickman, Haynes and Estrada, who was also elected BPA Delaware state treasurer for next year.

“When interacting with anyone” in business, “one must construct and defend their arguments,” said Bunting. “Our students need to go out and demonstrate initiative and some of the soft skills. We want them to assume a role in the adult world when they graduate.”

Business Professionals of America is the nation’s largest career and technical student organization for young people interested in business management.

This year. IRHS had 11 students travel to Dallas, and 12 BPA club members qualified. All of the qualifiers are super students, according to their coach.

“We first competed at states, and you have to place at states in order to attend the BPA national leadership conference. We did the rigorous competition, and we won the BPA state team championship,” said Bunting.

With respect to mentoring, he said, “We have very good relationships with Delaware Federal Credit Union, Bank of Ocean City, Chik-Fil-A local franchises, and we integrate their CFA leadership academy into our teaching. Also, State Farm Insurance with William Reese’s office is a big help. In the past, we have partnered with local Chambers and will re-establish that connection post-pandemic.”

“Managing these relationships is part of my job,” said Bunting. “The help of these professionals is invaluable to our students. We also partner with Salisbury University and Del Tech.”

Kopf is known to have a lot of poise to begin with, said teachers Bunting and Matt Schifano.

“Lenaya and Misty, with IRHS, are four-year veterans of BPA and had worked with the Selbyville Middle School BPA advisor, Mr. Schifano,” said Bunting. “They brought her into the fold and made her feel like a high-schooler. They kind of adopted her as one of their own. They talked about their experiences at the higher levels. Middle level provides rigor for seventh- to eighth-graders; but the high schools are more rigorous. They included Kaitlyn on everything we did. They helped her practice. She felt welcome with our group and is an honorary high school BPA.”

“We got a pipeline!” said the coach.

Emily and Vicky Chan were also very helpful to Kopf, added the coaches. Vicky Chan was a middle-school competitor.

“I get women who are already developed by the time they come to IRHS. They are not overwhelmed by competition or the service component of BPA,” said Bunting.

“There is a real bridge from middle to high school, and they hit the ground running,” said the IRHS advisor. “We do ‘Pay in Backwards’ to the younger set. We do have a farm team at Selbyville Middle. They are not scared little freshman — they are ready to compete here when they are 14 years old.”

“We want to teach folks to become functional members of society,” said Bunting. “It’s an extension of classroom learning. They are developing skills for either college or a career. Their skills are immediately valued by employers We are both college and career-oriented — we are really a farm system for these regional employers.”

“There were 5,000 students at the BPA nationals in Dallas, and to come away with a third and sixth place in the entire country — these kids are rockstars,” said Bunting.

Jordy Estrada cited his Economic Research Team of Stephen Quinn, Jack Jestice and Kristopher Meister as great competitors.

“Nothing has made me prouder and happier to have gotten to get to know each one of you throughout my life and, because of you, I am shaped the way I am. I thank you for standing by me and with me through the years.”

“To my two advisors, Dr. Jeffrey Bunting and Stephen Kilby, my appreciation and thank you. You shaped a shy freshman into a third-place national champion and the next Delaware BPA state treasurer. You all have worked hard to transform me and to mentor me on how BPA works and what I should do throughout my school and state. I thank all of you for my success,” said Estrada.

Staff Reporter

Mike has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern and is a 25-year member of the National Press Club. He has won four national writing awards for editorial work. He is a native of McLean, Va., and lives in Millville.