Stock game victory proves they know how to pick 'em

Investing: A North Harford High team says that tech shares and luck lifted its members to regional top honors.

January 15, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the era of day traders and multimillion-dollar initial public offerings, a group of Harford County high schoolers has learned one simple secret to getting rich in the stock market:

Luck.

Four North Harford High School students placed first of 143 teams in the Maryland segment of the Maryland/D.C. Stock Market Game.

The game provides students with $100,000 in imaginary money that they "invest," trying to get the best return possible.

After 10 weeks, Rodney Nash, Jessica Neitzey, Scott Phillips and Kristin Reich increased the value of their portfolio to $253,100. But the group isn't planning on storming Wall Street any time soon.

"We just kind of guessed," said Neitzey, an 18-year-old senior. "We knew to pick a few of the stocks because of the rise in technology stocks, but for the rest we just guessed."

The teens are students in Henry C. Hirschmann's personal finance class at North Harford High.

The business education teacher said his students have participated in the game for the past eight years.

"It's a little deviation from the day-in, day-out type of lecture series," Hirschmann said. "It teaches the students how to make decisions and the consequences of those decisions."

Armed with little more than a pep talk from a Legg Mason financial adviser who visited the class in the fall, the group invested its money in "shares" of Yahoo, Cox Communications, Coca-Cola, Polaris, Lucent, The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch.

But they never expected to win.

"There's people that know a lot about stocks in our class," said Phillips, a 17-year-old senior. "Mostly it's just luck. It's kind of like fishing, being in the right place at the right time."

Little by little, group members began to understand the workings of the market. Before long, they were tracking their investments like old pros.

"I started watching Bloomberg [stock market reports] early in the morning while I was still like half awake," Phillips said. "I never even knew what Bloomberg was before."

Allen C. Cox, coordinator of the Maryland/D.C. Stock Market Game, said officials view the game as an educational tool rather than a chance to play at getting rich.

"We are not trying to teach our kids how to be little day traders," said Cox, who is also a test administrator for the Prince George's County school system and director of Loyola College's Center for Economic Education. "What we want is to teach them long-term investment strategies."

Cox said that the game, a program of the New York-based Securities Industry Foundation for Economic Education, teaches math, language skills, reading comprehension and economic concepts.

"Some of these students do some really sophisticated research," Cox said.

While luck was a factor, Harford team members say the game taught them important lessons about what it takes to make money. Neitzey said the wheeling and dealing was exciting, but she'll take a more conservative approach in the future.

"Rodney and I are both looking into mutual funds," she said. "They are a little bit safer."

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