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On your marks, get set, INVEST!

Utah junior high and high school students will be forsaking the sports and comics pages for the financial section of the paper during the next 10 weeks as they learn the joys - and heartaches - of capitalism firsthand via The Stock Market Game.On Friday, Oct. 6, 193 teams from 27 schools throughout the state were each given a hypothetical $100,000 to invest in the stock market (New York, American and NASDAQ; no penny stocks) through Dec. 15.

The performance of the teams - who have adopted names such as Risky Business, Banking Bandits, Love-N-Money and Black Monday - will be tracked each week here in the Money section of the Deseret News, and the final winners will be announced in December when trophies will be awarded.

Unlike football or basketball, the rules are simple: The team with the most money wins. But if the outcome is clear cut, getting there is not . . . as anyone who has ever tried to pick a winning portfolio knows.

To help the budding investors find their way through the Wall Street jungle, a dozen Utah investment firms and financial institutions are donating their time and expertise to help the students get rich - on paper anyway - and, more importantly, learn all about economics and the business of business.

The coach, mentor, prime mover and overall guru for The Stock Market Game is Shauna L. Mackintosh, director of Granite School District's Academy of Finance. The game is played in school districts throughout the nation and is run by the Securities Industries Association in cooperation with the economic councils of the various states' departments of education.

Trouble was, Utah wasn't in the program last year when Mackintosh wanted to get it going here, but she wasn't to be deterred: She simply got her kids signed up to compete in Idaho's program. Call it beginner's luck if you want, but her kids won the championship over 87 other teams . . . and caught investor fever in the process.

Armed with a Deseret News article on the contest by Education Editor Twila Van Leer, Mackintosh went before the Economic Council of the State School Board and came away with a $3,000 grant to train Utah teachers to run the program. That is all in place, and the teams - as few as one team at Beaver High and as many as 19 at Logan High - are now placing their bets . . . uh, that is, making their investment decisions.

The Academy of Finance was first launched at Kearns High School, but a second has recently been opened at Cottonwood High and each of those schools has eight teams represented. However, Mackintosh assures, there will be no "insider trading" and all will have the same chance to win. Kearns also has students from Cyprus High and Granger High participating in their program, and Cottonwood has students from Olympus and Taylorsville high school.

The Salt Lake office of Shearson Lehman Hutton is sponsor of the contest and will provide the trophies. Other Salt Lake financial firms lending their expertise to the teams include Prudential-Bache, Paine Webber Inc, Merrill Lynch, Piper Jaffray & Hopwood Inc., First Security Corp., and Zions Bank.

Mackintosh says the students are taking the game very seriously.

"To see these kids reading the Wall Street Journal every day, well, it's very rewarding. The strategy sessions with the brokers are exciting, and it's gratifying to see business executives and high school kids with a common goal. And believe me, the competition is fierce. Every team and every adviser wants to win very badly."

Each week the teams will receive an update on their portfolios showing how much they have spent - including broker commissions - their gains and losses and where they stand relative to the other teams.

Participating high schools are Beaver, Central, Cottonwood, Cyprus, Dixie, East Carbon, East, Granger, Heritage, Hurricane, Juab, Kearns, Layton, Lehi, Logan, Milford, Mountain View, Ogden, Olympus, Orem, Pleasant Grove, Provo, South Summit and Tintic. Junior highs participating are Kearns, Olympus and West Lake.