Fun and games nothing at Monopoly tourney, it's all business Students learn about free market HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION

March 15, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Alain Douyan, a senior at Oakland Mills High School, was sent directly to jail for stealing hundreds of dollars from the bank -- the Monopoly bank, that is.

He didn't stop at Go.

"I'm never going back there," the 17-year-old said after having sat out five rounds. "You don't know how it feels to be caged like an animal."

His confines were a square corner, cordoned off by red and blue streamers.

All the Monopoly he ever wanted to play -- and more -- he did, at Oakland Mills' third annual Monopoly tournament, held last week. As in previous years, the tournament culminated a world economies lesson that Diane Ferary gave to her introductory business class, which learned about Adam Smith, Keynesian economics and free trade. More than 150 students played games all day long.

Last year, the Monopoly tournament won Ms. Ferary the honor as Teacher of the Year in a contest sponsored by IBM. The concept itself was voted as one of the 150 best educational tools in the nation.

"They're actually competing now, which is what the free market is," Ms. Ferary said. "A monopoly does not work in the world because people put too much money in too few properties. A monopoly is not a good system."

It may not be a good system in the real world, but student-monopolists were racking up properties left and right, from Pacific Avenue to Boardwalk to Oriental Avenue. Christina Somerville was down to $2 and had to mortgage properties to pay off rent. "Every time I go around, I usually get fined, so I can't build any homes," she said.

Her opponent was 17-year-old Mike Vatalaro, dressed in a three-piece suit and sunglasses and carrying a violin case to replicate the '30s era, when Monopoly was created. He eventually went on to rank as one of the top three monopolists of the tournament.

"He has all the railroads, so I have to be careful about landing on them," said Christina, 17.

Mike, for his part, enjoyed his prosperity. "I'm getting rich," he said. "That's all I care about."

He owned the orange-and-maroon properties -- everything from St. Charles Place to New York Avenue, places that statistically have a higher chance of being landed on.

While Christina and Mike played the traditional board game version, others played Monopoly games in foreign languages, such as Russian and French, with names like Avenues de Champs-Elysee, for sale for 35 francs, and Rue de la Paix, up for grabs for 40 francs. Students who played the foreign version were given translators.

Sixteen-year-old Toya Dates and 17-year-old Vickie Johnson favored the electronic Monopoly game version, which was available on about a dozen computers.

"The computer's much better than the board game," said Toya, a junior. "It's all there. All you have to do is push a button, and the computer does it for you."

The only disadvantage is that you cannot bargain with your opponent, and you must stick by the rules, Vickie said.

A trade commissioner -- a handsomely attired 17-year-old Sean Reynolds -- regulated Monopoly play. He nabbed people who cheated and had the option of writing them a citation, slapping them with a fine or sending them to jail.

"You can't collect rent or do anything when you're in jail," he said. "A couple of students were cheating by taking property on the computer when others weren't looking."

To win his position, he had to write a resume and a history and explanation of the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates stock trading in the real world.

The top three competitors won prizes, ranging from gift certificates for free computer games, baskets of goodies and Vuarnet designer bags. Kristen Knight, who ranked second in the competition, credited her success to luck.

"I just went around and bought everything I landed on," she said. "I like buying cheap properties and building on them, because when people land on them, you pay more rent."

Ms. Ferary said the tournament taught students not only about business but also about how to work together -- through hanging up streamers, decorating walls and other activities.

"It's a wonderful way to teach concepts, but it is the best way to teach students how to work for a common goal," she said.

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