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Surprise winners take top prize in state stock competition

SALT LAKE CITY — Achieving high returns in the stock market can reap big financial rewards. But for a team of Utah County high school students, the benefits they received from a statewide investment contest may be something even more valuable than money.

Seven male students who are currently wards of the state at Slate Canyon Youth Center in Provo won first place in a competition called The Stock Market Game, which pitted the group against thousands of other students across Utah.

The game challenges students to invest a hypothetical $100,000 in common stocks on the New York and American Stock Exchanges, as well as on the NASDAQ said Keith Woodwell, director of the Utah Division of Securities, who sponsored the competition. Students in three divisions — elementary, junior high/middle and high school — form teams and work interactively to research and trade stock, he said.

The winners in each category were honored during a ceremony on Friday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City.

Because of legal issues, only one of the high school winners attended the recognition luncheon and their names were not publicly released because of privacy concerns.

Nevertheless, the 15-year old 10th-grader representing his team gave a hint about the team’s winning strategy:

“We had six criteria that we would look at and every stock we chose had that criteria,” he said. By the third week of the competition, the team had climbed to the top spot and never relinquished it.

“With this success, it has me thinking (positive),” he said. “It's self-confidence … (and) makes me think that I’m capable. It’s a good feeling.”

He said this uplifting experience could be something that he could build on academically moving forward. Where previously he had been reluctant to speak up he now believes he can be a leader.

“I would tell other students, ‘If you have something to say, say it,’” he said. “Somebody else will notice that you know what you’re talking about and eventually (others) will start listening to you.”

The Stock Market Game is a simulation of Wall Street trading that teaches students about the American economic system, Woodwell said. The competition is designed for classroom use to help students understand the stock market, the costs and benefits involved in economic decision-making, the sources and uses of capital, and other related economic concepts, he said.

During a 10-week period, teams submit their transactions and receive daily portfolio updates detailing their current holdings, brokerage fees, margin interest and team ranking, according to stockmarketgame.org. At the end of the period, the top three teams in each region that have achieved the greatest dollar increase in the market value of their portfolio are recognized with awards and prizes, Woodwell said.

During spring semester of 2016, there were 500 teams competing throughout Utah. The winning Slate Canyon team posted a 57.45 percent return over the two-and-a-half month period. They did it despite a 40-minute-a-day limit on internet use at the school.

The team’s coach, Provo School District Careers, Technology and Education teacher David Starling, said the success of the at-risk students shows what can be achieved and overcome with proper guidance from educators and determination from the kids.

“All people are of worth,” he said. “(These kids) have had some rough pasts, but they are just as capable and given the right training and the time, they can accomplish all that anyone else can.”

E-mail: jlee@deseretnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1