Students in Free Enterprise advisor Dr. Al Socci was checking his e-mail on March 22, after returning home from Philadelphia, when he opened a message with the subject line, “Congratulations on your Victory.”
The business club had just completed their presentation at the SIFE Regional Competition hours before. After describing their year’s activities to a panel of judges, Socci and the team left the city before results were announced.
It wasn’t until reading this e-mail that Socci learned that they won first place.
“I was shaking with excitement,” Socci said. He immediately tried calling SIFE members seniors Jason Bradley, a business management and marketing major, Adrienne Johnson, a marketing major, and management majors Katherine Coulter and Krystal Cairns who all presented on stage during the competition.
Cairns was the first to answer her phone.
“He tells me that we won, and I was like ‘You’re really funny,'” Cairns said.
Cairns was the only member of the group who was optimistic about the competition–even Dr. Socci told her not to get her hopes up.
“It was totally a God-thing that we won,” Coulter said.
The students entered the competition with almost no expectations of winning.
“We didn’t compete to win,” Coulter said. “We just went in with the attitude that this is an experience. It really took a lot of pressure off of our team.”
The group of 13 walked into the Pennsylvania Convention Center and immediately noticed other college teams decked out in matching button-down shirts and carrying briefcases.
“Everyone was so much more serious than we were,” Bradley said. “We were more friends, while they were like business partners.”
Each of the four presenters felt some jitters at some point leading up to or during the 24-minute presentation, but they made it completely clear to the 20 judges and the audience that they do not base their work on the guidelines established by the organization.
They understood that this might cost them points.
“We evaluate (our work) by how we touch people’s lives,” Socci said. “The SIFE judges have a criteria they have to follow.”
The team provided the judges with an annual report of its work, and presenters described this year’s projects, such as the “Shoots for Success” fundraiser to benefit Blankenburg Elementary School.
“It went better than any practice,” Coulter said.
Bradley concluded their time on stage with a brief speech in which he explained the team’s decision to disregard SIFE’s requirement for pre and post-testing to evaluate projects.
“We truly understand that assessment is required in any type of program development, but ours is simply one that is assessed by the hearts of those we touch,” Bradley said during the presentation. “Our rewards for our efforts may not be acknowledged today, but one day the words, ‘Well done thy good and faithful servant,’ will be sufficient.”
“It really must have struck a chord with the judges,” Bradley said, looking back.
Following surprised looks from judges and some snickers from students in reaction to Bradley’s words, the humble team packed up and left the building before the results were given.
In an effort to protect the students from harsh criticism, Socci encouraged the group to call it a day.
“We usually leave because it’s been so negative for the students in the past,” said Socci, who has attended the regional competition for several years.
The students gave no protest. “We genuinely didn’t think we would win, so we left,” Coulter said.
Although the team expected the trophy and $1,000 prize to be awarded to another school, “We actually had a really fun time,” Johnson said.
On March 25, SIFE members met for their first class since the big win, and coffee, donuts and homemade cookies baked by Mrs. Socci were passed around in celebration.
SIFE will soon sort out the logistics of the May trip to Minneapolis. Having won the regional competition, the team will take on 40 other schools in the National Exposition.
“It’s a huge thing for the business department and the school,” Socci said. “I’ve been in this business for 16 years and this is the best thing that’s happened.”