Selbyville Middle School’s Kaitlyn Kopf, an eighth-grader, took home the national trophy for extemporaneous speaking at the Business Professionals of America competition in Anaheim, Calif., concluding the competition on April 30.
Kopf won second-place honors last year and was determined to come back this year to win the national event.
“It can be a very stressful event at nationals,” said SMS business teacher Jason Sweetman, her faculty advisor. “Kaitlyn may have had a slight advantage because she was at the BPA nationals last year in Dallas. She still had to compete in the finals twice, because there was a Top 10 elimination round and then a final speech to consider the order of the place winners. And, she had to go first among these Top 10 finalists.”
Sweetman is in his first year teaching business and has been at SMS for six years, working previously in special education. He taught business education at other schools before joining Selbyville’s award-winning team. His predecessor had built a strong program, including supporting Kopf on last year’s BPA journey.
Matt Schifano, the former SMS business education teacher, has taken a similar position at Indian River High School and will next transition to working at the district level for the Indian River School District in business and accounting functions.
“The club has had an impact on me in a way that makes me want to have a future in business or public speaking,” said the eighth-grader from Ocean View.
Kopf placed first in extemporaneous speech after having only 10 minutes to prepare a talk on several business subjects.
“We had a 7:30 a.m. call for Kaitlyn, and we came to the arena at 7 a.m., to be early,” recalled Sweetman. “With all the judging and computer tabulation issues, and due to some technical difficulties, Kaitlyn was not asked to speak until 8:15 a.m., which is a long time to stand and wait.”
The BPA is the largest career and technical training student organization dedicated to students anticipating careers in business or management, with more than 45,000 members nationwide. At the national leadership event, students heard from leading business speakers, and could network with BPA student leaders and compete for prizes.
Kopf also was able to make a vacation of the travel and went to Disneyland in Anaheim with other BPA student participants. She also went to see Santa Monica pier and travelled to Newport Beach in Orange County, Calif., to see the Pacific ocean beaches.
“We tried to keep her relaxed before her finals,” added Sweetman.
Her national finalist topic was “Should all state parks and zoological parks be free and open to the public” across the country. In Delaware state parks, a park entrance fee is charged from the first of March until the final day of November.
“She gets 10 minutes after reviewing the topic on her card to write down everything she can think about in support of or against that measure,” said Sweetman. “Then, she would have three index cards of her own to carry into the competition with the two judges.”
“She is a natural speaker,” said Sweetman of the national winner. “She has by now done hundreds of mock speeches and, as an eighth-grader, will now move forward to IRHS and to compete again in high school.”
SMS started the year with 12 students in the BPA group, and two of them made it all the way to national BPA competition. The other middle-school student making it to the national competition was Luke Aukland, who Sweetman said competed well but did not win a national BPA recognition.
Kopf will receive a plaque and full acknowledgement of her achievement by the IRSD Board of Education at the May 22 school board meeting at Indian River High School.