As two 2007 graduates of Waxahachie High School prepare to make the transition to college, each can look back with pride at a major accomplishment competing at the national level with Business Professionals of America.

Each competed against 75 other competitors from across the United States, with Ashley Hodge placing fifth in the nation in integrated office applications and Micah Backus placing 15th in banking and finance.

Hodge and Backus traveled to New York for the BPA national conference in May as members of the WHS-based chapter, which is led by Melissa Morgan and Julia Vincent.

“This is a club geared toward students who are taking business classes,” Morgan said. “The club’s objective is to help students succeed and feel confident about themselves. This club allows students to have fun and to form friendships. It’s just really neat to see how they enjoy being successful.

“They usually enjoy the competitions because they get to travel and compete at regional, state and national levels, plus it looks good on their college application and their resume,” she said.

Both Hodge and Backus qualified for nationals by placing in the top five at the state competition in March in Corpus Christi, which they qualified for by way of the regional competition in Killeen in January.

“Micah actually placed first at the state competition and Ashley placed third,” Morgan said. “And after advancing to state, they advanced to nationals.

“In these competitions, there are individual events and there are team events,” she said. “In individual events, a student has to place in the top five in order to advance to the state-level competition. In the team events, students have to place in the top two and it’s not easy because there are a lot of intelligent people in each category that are competing.”

In an interview, Hodge provided some insight on her experience as a first-year competitor.

“I was asked to compete during my junior year, but I didn’t so this was my first year. I didn’t have as much experience as the other people I was up against so I really didn’t know what to expect on the test,” Hodge said, noting her biggest fear was seeing something on the test that was not on the practice test. “I felt a little intimidated because some of the other competitors had probably been there before so they knew what to expect. We just had to go with what we had on the practice test and do the best we could. Overall, ranking was kind of bittersweet to me because some of the friends I had there in the group didn’t advance. I was happy I advanced, but I was also sad that they didn’t.”

On the other hand, Backus had state-level experience and knew the pros and cons of the competition.

“I competed in the BPA competition my junior year and ranked first in regional and advanced to state, but this is my first time advancing to the national level,” Backus said. “I was sort of proud of myself because I ranked 15th in the whole nation and most people can’t say that about themselves.”

As with any competition, practice makes perfect.

“For my category, I did a lot of practice tests and studied Microsoft books that taught me how to do certain commands that would’ve likely been on the test,” Hodge said, with Backus crediting Morgan for her assistance and support.

“Mrs. Morgan would print out practice tests for us from the previous year and I would actually sit there and complete them,” Backus said. “She would check our answers and if there were any problems, she would help us with that. I also did a couple practice tests, which took about 30 minutes to complete each and then I would also scan over banking and finance textbooks that Mrs. Morgan would provide for a studying tool.”

Deciding which category to compete in ties in with knowing a student’s weakness and strengths, Morgan said.

“I’ve been a sponsor for 25 years and I always have people ask me how am I able to have students advance to the state or national level year after year,” Morgan said, saying that on an average, WHS has 15 to 20 students who advance to state and usually two to three students who advance to nationals.

“To me, it’s a matter of knowing the student’s strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “If I can get them in the right category, then they will do well. Last year, we had a few students recognized in the top eight, so we have pretty good luck each year. We’ve also had area and national officers to compete on the national level in 2001-2002, which is very time consuming.”

Backus said she chose banking and finance for many reasons — one being her future goal.

“I knew that banking and finance was something relating to what I want to do in the future so I tried it,” she said. “I tried accounting last year and advanced to state so I wanted to see if I could succeed in this category as well.”

Hodge chose integrated office procedures because of what it represented.

“I chose this category because I knew it would be challenging,” Hodge said. “I also chose it because no one else in the organization chose it.”

Asked what was the most difficult part about competing against someone who wanted to rank just as much as she did, Backus simply stated, “remaining focused.”

“Remaining focused on my questions and answers was the most difficult part for me because there were some people who looked as if they knew what they were doing,” she said with a laugh.

Backus and Hodge have completed high school - and they are convinced that being prepared was the best tactic they could’ve used to rank in this particular competition.

“My advice to others would be to practice your contest and know what you’re doing,” Backus said. “Pick something you know you’re good at and not something just because it sounds good. Once you select it, don’t lose focus. Also think about something that would prepare you for the future and practice, practice, practice.”

“My advice to others would be to study and practice as much as you can,” Hodge said.

Hodge, who received a medal from BPA, will attend Navarro College at its Waxahachie campus beginning this fall for a year and then continue her education at the University of Texas at Arlington, majoring in pre-law. She is the daughter of DeWain and Laura Hodge.

Backus, who received a medal and a plaque from BPA, will attend Baylor University this fall and major in accounting. She is the daughter of Larry and Julia Backus.

“Both of the girls are very intelligent and have ambition,” Morgan said. “They are both very hard working and they did well with practicing and doing whatever it was we needed them to do. They have that drive to succeed and - plus - they have a good attitude.”

E-mail Chicarra at chicarra.dense@waxahachiedailylight.com