BRATTLEBORO -- The members of Maribeth Cornell's team can now call themselves state high school champions.
But they are unlikely to cruise around town on fire trucks or get a banner in the Brattleboro Union High School gymnasium.
That's because Cornell is one of the instructors of the Windham Regional Career Center's Future Business Leaders of America chapter, which in late March triumphed at the 2013 Vermont FBLA Spring Leadership Conference.
Seventeen FBLA members from WRCC spent March 28 to 30 at the Sheraton hotel in Burlington competing with other schools from around the state in categories such as leadership, PowerPoint presentations, managerial decision-making and entrepreneurship. The first-, second- and third-place finishers in each category received plaques and BUHS won the overall competition and was named the most spirited squad. It was the first championship for BUHS since 1999.
Cornell said there is a national rubric for the FBLA Spring Leadership Conference, which is judged by outside evaluators. WRCC racked up 18 first-place finishes and nine second-place awards while seven students took third place in their respective categories.
All student organizations attending the conference also had to file a written report and documentation of everything they were involved with over the course of a year. Cornell -- who won Outstanding Advisor of the Year honors -- said the leadership conference, and FBLA as a whole, is a great way for high school students to break out of their shell.
"Just to see the kids' delight after the frustration it took for all of them to pull that together, to all of a sudden hearing they were going to be state champs was just so joyful," she said at the Windham Regional Professional Training Center. "I can't really come up with the right word for how proud I felt for them because they realized all of their endeavors had come together to be recognized for something exceptional, that they had done exceptional work."
Barb Vinci, the other business educator involved with FBLA, said the time Cornell spent with the members preparing for the competition paid off in a big way.
"It's really a neat way for them to really meld together as a cohesive unit," she said.
Vinci said it was remarkable to see the students grow as individual young men and women in a matter of days.
"It's amazing to see how they change from kids who are very quiet and not willing to open up that shell to all of a sudden they get up there and we're like, ‘Who is this person and what did you do with the other person that was on the bus?' -- because they're totally different," she said. "That's really the potential that was in that person that just needed that opportunity to come out."
Vinci, a graduate of the BUHS Class of 1984 and a former pupil of the woman she now calls a colleague, said several of the students even won thousands of dollars in scholarships to Johnson & Wales University.
It was the third and final leadership conference for President Theresa Glabach, who said she will cherished the memories she has made.
"The experience is incredible because the opening session to start everything off is with all the members that attend within the state -- so it's about 150 people all in one room," the senior said. "I know for everybody else that had that chance, it was amazing."
Glabach, 18, said she plans to take what she has learned and use it when she starts attending the University of Vermont, where she intends to major in business administration.
"I'd love to go into the business end of health care and work through a hospital. I love the idea of helping people but I don't have the stomach for being a doctor or a surgeon," she said with a laugh.
Glabach also encourages all students to try FBLA to see if it is the right fit for them.
"When I started out, I didn't want to be involved. Ms. Cornell gently pushed me into it and gave me the encouragement to step up and go to the first event. And I found that, throughout my time, I was going less and less for her and more and more for myself," she said. "It's something that's truly helped me grow in the past few years. I went from not being confident at all, not wanting to talk in front of people, to being someone who's tough and confident and ready to take on anything. And I never dreamed that I'd be a state officer or a local president or anything."
Junior Matthew Anderson, 17, said a couple of his friends got him to join FBLA, and he is thankful for it. He took part in the PowerPoint presentation (taking first place) in Burlington and said he plans to explore a bachelor's degree in a business field after he graduates BUHS in 2014. He also hopes to encourage other students to join FBLA.
Classmate Alicia Hogenmiller was invited to the student organization by friend Jessica Mann and now thinks she wants to study business in college. She said her interest has been sparked and she plans to take accounting and international business classes next year at BUHS. She said the leadership conference definitely increased her desire even more.
"It was good to get the experience of having to stand in front of somebody and present an idea," the 17-year-old said. "By going to FBLA, you have no choice but to stand up and present to somebody and it kind of gives you that confidence. It feels good once you've done it."
Junior Renee Reeves, 18, joined FBLA this semester because she was looking to get involved with a school activity and try something outside her comfort zone.
"I was trying to find those friends that you consider your best friends," she said. "I found them here."
Reeves, who said she wants to go into law enforcement, took part in the marketing and client services categories in Burlington and said the leadership conference was a good experience.
Senior Emily Dow joined FBLA when she was a freshman because she knew at an early age exactly what she wanted to do.
"Up the road from me is Honora Winery and the owners have known me since I was in kindergarten," she said. "In sixth grade, they helped me get community service and a part-time job working at weddings and, in eighth grade, after about two years of working there, I said, ‘Oh, I really want to do this. It's really fun.'"
She realized she wanted to be an event planner and will attend Lasell University in Massachusetts next year to earn a bachelor's degree in hospitality event management. She competed in the personal finance, sport management and hospitality categories in Burlington.
Cornell said though FBLA stands for the "Future Business Leaders of America," the students in the organization have a diverse variety of interests and career goals. Not all of them want to be the next Warren Buffett -- there are student-athletes, full-time students and drama club members who have joined FBLA for their own reasons.
She said the FBLA meets about six times every school year and the officers meet nearly once a week. She said there are about 55 FBLA members in the WRCC.
Vinci said FBLA has been in existence for about 80 years and came to Vermont in the early 1970s.
BUHS is now in the process of process of raising funds to attend the national FBLA leadership conference in Anaheim, Calif., at the end of June.
The entire roster that went to Burlington is as follows: Seniors Brenda Atwater, Biak Chin, Emily Dow, Theresa Glabach, Sam O'Brien and Rissa Smith; juniors Matthew Anderson, Alex Derosia, James Ferris, Dan Fooks, Jessica Hanson, Alicia Hogenmiller, Hannah Lynde, Jessica Mann and Renee Reeves; and sophomores Oliver Huestis and Kobi Jaro.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.