Underage drinking kills DECA at AVHS

School officials say problem has persisted for two decades

Instances of underage drinking during school-sponsored DECA events have caused Apple Valley High School to suspend the program for at least four years, according to school officials.

“Sometimes decisions based on the actions of a few affect everyone,” school  Principal Stephen Degenaar said. “It’s unfortunate, but we’ve done all we can do to correct misbehavior and it hasn’t worked.”

Underage drinking has plagued the high school’s business-focused extracurricular activity for decades, but it all came to a head during an October event, Degenaar said.

While staying in a Bloomington hotel for a DECA competition on Oct. 28, an estimated two to three Apple Valley students smuggled alcohol into their room. By approximately 10:30 p.m., hotel security found about 60 students from several high schools drinking alcohol in one of the Apple Valley student’s rooms, according to a letter to parents from Degenaar.

Degenaar said he believes about 18 Apple Valley students were drinking in the hotel that evening. He doesn’t think any other students from the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District attended the party.

Poor behavior spanning 20 years of DECA trips has not been limited to underage drinking, Degenaar said. Hazing has also been an issue.

Officials considered dropping DECA, a national program found in many high schools, from Apple Valley High in 2010 when the adviser retired, but parents fought to keep the program. After a parent group raised money to pay the stipend, two business teachers agreed to fill the position.

The new advisers had concerns about past issues on DECA trips and made it clear they would immediately step down if such issues arose. As promised, both quit the program within days of the incident.

Degenaar said he believes underage drinking has become an issue at DECA events, in particular, due to the frequent hotel stays associated with the program.

If the program returns to Apple Valley, students would no longer be able to stay in hotels during events in the Twin Cities, Degenaar said. Students would continue to stay in a hotel during the national competition, he said.

Degenaar said he is not aware of underage drinking incidents during the club’s national trips, which are limited to a select few.

The school’s decision comes as a great disappointment to Shalom Ewald of Burnsville, whose 16-year-old son, August, was a member of the Apple Valley team. August is not believed to be involved in the incident, and another five DECA students were not at the hotel that night.

“They should have suspended these students (at the hotel) instead of barring it for everyone,” Ewald said. “More than half the kids weren’t doing anything wrong.”

Ewald said she wishes  the school would have at least allowed students to finish the competition season before canceling the program.

Her son finished his latest project but won’t be able to bring it to competition. Students involved in DECA are able to compete in areas of business, marketing and finance.

“We’re devastated by this,” she said. “He put so much time into his projects and papers.”

Degenaar said he decided to immediately cancel the program to send a message that underage drinking at DECA events will not be tolerated.

Degenaar said he will consider reinstating the program after approximately four years, when all current DECA students have graduated.

That means August, a junior, will be unable to participate.

Since August is passionate about the program, Ewald said she’s researching whether he can join a team at another high school.

August isn’t the first in the Ewald family to find joy in DECA.

His older brother, Robinson, now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was a state DECA champion at Apple Valley. As a high school freshman he was a high-achieving, straight-A student but shy around his peers, Ewald said. DECA helped him break out of his shell.

August, who has been involved in DECA since his freshman year, had hoped to take home state and national titles like his older brother.

  • Cliff Volkmann

    What is DECA?

    • Arlys Thompson

      DECA stands for Distributive Education Club of America. It is a Business/Marketing & Advertising nationwide HS activity.

  • Rosie from Rosemount

    A “professional” fraternity, I think Delta Epsilon Chi, but not sure (DEC + A and A= “Association.”) Allegedly promotes business leaders and leadership.

    Where are the parents?

    • Robinson Ewald

      That’s not true. DECA stands for Distributive Education Club of America. The program has changed me and my plans for my future occupation. It saddens me that AVHS is shutting it down due to this reasoning. It is completely unfair in a sense that these problems exist in almost every high school extra curricular activity all across the country! For the individuals like myself and many others who competed for national excellence, DECA will always remain a life changing experience that is was so very important in making us who we are today.

  • Rosie from Rosemount


    Here is a link showing DEC is indeed a “professional fraternity” and includes information on DECA as it relates to Delta Epsilon Chi. This is right off of the DECA website.


    • Former DECA Advisor

      Although both of you are correct. There is a seperation between DECA at the high school level and DECA at the college level. They have seperate governing bodies and NONE of the conferences overlap.

      DECA, used to stand for Distributive Education Clubs of America. It has outgrown its name like KFC, so it no longer stands for that.

      As for Apple Valley, this has been a common problem for some schools and the underage drinking. A small number of the students would see this as an opportunity to drink. As a former advisor, I know that Apple Valley has had more issues than other schools. It is sad that they limit for all and not just those involved.

      If you have questions on DECA, I would encourage you to check out Minnesota DECA (www.mndeca.org) and contact one of the State Officers.