Joe Jaeger said his biggest regret during his four years at Lakeville North High School was not joining DECA as a ninth-grader.
The graduate in the class of 2019 found more than a niche in the business and marketing club activity, he’s found his future.
Jaeger, the son of Scott and Jennalyn, will study business and engineering this fall when he starts at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.
His DECA experience along with participation in the school’s Business Academy led him to discover his interest and affinity for business.
Jaeger and his DECA partner placed first in the state this spring in the Entrepreneurship Team Decision Making category, and ninth at the international conference in Orlando, Florida.
Through the competition, Jaeger and Caiden Siefken were presented with business challenge scenarios, and the two had 15 minutes to prepare a short presentation to the problem.
“We are almost opposites,” Jaeger said. “He’s more of a logistics guy and has a realistic perspective. I bring a more creative aspect to it with communications, reaching out to customers and more of a marketing mind.”
He said when they get in competition mode, there’s a good flow to their presentations and they each know when to jump in with something to add.
While he excelled in DECA, Jaeger said his Capstone Project in the Business Academy was the creation of sensory kits for children with autism.
The project raised money to buy materials for the kits, that include items such as squishy balls, ear protection and scented items.
“It has something for all five senses, as it helps (the children) adapt to what can be uncomfortable situations,” Jaeger said.
Jaeger said an event at Lakeville Brewing Co. helped raise $2,000 for the kits that were donated to Children’s Hospitals of Minneapolis where his mother has worked.
He said his experience with DECA, the Business Academy and courses at Lakeville North have him well prepared for college.
“I’m still open to see what happens as a far as a major,” Jaeger said. “I’m future prepared.”
It won’t be all business for Jaeger at college.
The offensive lineman at Lakeville North will play for St. John’s, which has one of the most successful college football programs in the country.
The Division III school has won multiple Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles and national titles.
He said he likes the family feel of the program, which is known for its unpadded and no-contact practices.
“I went there twice for game day visits,” he said. “They showed me around and I fell in love with it right away. It is cool to see the atmosphere with 10,000 fans there for each game. It’s great to see the community come together. That’s why I chose it.”
Jaeger said it reminded him of how the Lakeville community rallies around its sports teams, including the football team he played on.
“Everyone cares about you,” Jaeger said. “They are all there for you and welcome you into their lives.”
He said it’s amazing to see how the grade-school children look up to them and how businesses and churches support the team.
A year after losing to perennial powerhouse Eden Prairie in the semifinals at state, Jaeger said 2019’s team was expected to be good with several seniors, but he knew it could be better.
Jaeger said an early indication of the team’s unity came during a July scrimmage against another school, when one of Jaeger’s linemates was shoved to the ground after the play was over. Instantly all the other offensive linemen rushed to his defense and made it clear that cheap shots would not be tolerated.
“It was just a reaction. Everyone knew at that point that we all were going to have each other’s back,” Jaeger said. “I said to myself: ‘OK, this is really good camaraderie.’ ”
What followed was a regular season that had its share of injuries, rough starts and close games, but the team persevered to win every game on the way to earning the school’s first state title in 15 years.
“It was really cool that I was able to experience that with all of my buddies,” Jaeger said.
He said the wealth of experience the team had was the difference.
“We had already played in a lot of big games, like the North-South rivalry, and when we got in those games we weren’t freaking out. We knew we could play great.”
They relied on that experience when the Panthers fell behind early in the state championship game against Eden Prairie.
“I know people were thinking we might blow this, but we were calm and we knew what we could do,” Jaeger said.
It was all execution from that point. Jaeger said there were big plays by quarterback Brian Curtis Jr. and every player up and down the line on both offense and defense.
“I remember that last play where we took a knee to win it. There were so many emotions running through my mind. It was great,” Jaeger said.
After that, he recalls lots of hugs from teammates, friends and family coming onto the field afterward for more hugs, lots of pictures and maybe a few tears.
“I’m going to miss it,” Jaeger said. “It’s going to be weird to be done with it and be back here for a football game and not play in it.”
Jaeger said it’s a odd feeling to be done with his Lakeville school days, having attended Cherry View Elementary and Century Middle schools previously.
But as things come to an end there are always new beginnings.
Jaeger, who has a junior high school age brother, Brady, will be spending most of summer taking care of his younger sisters Lily and Allie, who are kindergarten and second-grade ages.
“I love spending time with them,” Jaeger said. “They are lots of fun. They are funny. They are hilarious. I like being able to build a relationship with them because I’ll be gone to school in a few months.”
Tad Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.