3 guys, 5 seconds and $6,000

Oak Harbor students emerge victorious in virtual hotel category of international DECA competition

It came down to the final five seconds for three Oak Harbor High School seniors to emerge international champions.

Ben Gasper, Cullen Wood and Casey Towsley, huddled around a computer, sat in fourth place with 40 seconds to go last week in the DECA Virtual Business Challenge in Atlanta, Ga.

In the end, they came home with a trophy and $6,000 prize.

“It was crazy,” said Eric Peterson, DECA advisor.

“I was scared because I wasn’t sure they were going to be able to make the jump.”

Peterson could only watch the standings move around every 20 seconds on a large screen projecting the scores. The team could see their live scores; “We always knew we were higher than it said we were,” he said.

The students had 15 minutes to run an in-depth simulation of managing a hotel.

The three constantly had to change daily rates to maximize profits, make staffing changes to keep employees satisfied and make bids for groups to visit their hotel. With only one computer for the three of them, the team utilized a rather unique strategy to maximize speed and efficiency. Gasper had one hand on the key board to copy and paste and another of the mouse while Wood had his hand on the number pad to be able to quickly enter in digits. Towsley told the two when to change numbers and reminded them to make staffing changes when appropriate.

“That made us faster, I think, than the other teams,” Gasper said.

Although it might have looked odd, but the method proved effective. The students said they spent hundreds of hours collectively practicing and studying for the competition. Over two weeks they spent over 40 hours running the simulation to qualify for the event, which meant working on it before school, during lunch during their free time and “maybe” even during some other classes.

Peterson said his role was mainly to offer advice and try and keep the students motivated for the long hours it took to qualify and get to the competition.

“It takes a special kind of kid to be able to stay focused for that long,” he said.

Wood and Gasper first teamed together their freshman year when they joined DECA. Their team steadily improved every year, and they added Towsler after they noticed his strength on another team.

“This year was the super team,” Gasper said with a laugh.

Wood joined DECA after he heard a presentation about it from one of its members while he was in middle school and it peaked his interest. Gasper wanted to try every smoothie flavor at DECA’s school store, which he was eventually able to accomplish.

Towsley was unavailable for an interview, but he plans to study business at the University of Washington Bothell.

Wood wants to study electrical engineering with a minor in business at Western Washington University, and Gasper will go to Washington University in St. Louis but is undecided on his major.

“I’m very proud of these guys,” Peterson said. “I’m going to be sad to see them go because they’ve been in the program for four years.

“When you’ve seen kids start as freshman and see them grow up, it’s a pretty cool deal to have them end their high school career this way.”