LFCHS Economics Team excels far and wide

Team takes third place in St. Louis and first place in New York

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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A proud Little Falls Community High School economics team captured the championship at the National Economic Challenge in New York City, May 20. Sponsored by the Council for Economic Education, the competition was broadcast live from the WNET television studio. Pictured are (from left): Instructor Tom Stockard, Derek Toso, Caleb Hardekopf, Adam Grams and Michael Borders.

Little Falls Community High School 2012 Economics Team, put together in late February, clinched first place at the national Economic Challenge competition in New York City, May 19-20.

Team members Michael Borders, Adam Grams, Caleb Hardekopf and Derek Toso, all seniors, along with their instructor and coach, Tom Stockard, took the trip of a lifetime to New York and brought home the championship trophy as well.

In late February every year, Stockard chooses a group of about 10 students to compete in the Economic Challenge regional competition in St. Cloud. Using the results of that event, four team members are chosen to take a qualifying test for inclusion in nationals.

Stockard first coached a team for the Challenge in 2005. The 2007 through 2009 teams all captured first in Minnesota. In 2008, the team placed fourth at nationals, and went back in 2009 to take first place.

“It’s a fun way for the students to flaunt economic skills and creative problem-solving in real-world applications to economic problems,” Stockard said.

But in 2010 and 2011, the national competition was not held for the large school division due to the economic recession and funding constraints.

So in those two years, Stockard coached a team for the Personal Finance Decathlon. Both teams placed first in the national competition, held in St. Louis.

“This year was a lot more work for the team because it involved both competitions at once,” said Stockard.

That proved to be a hurdle too big to clear, as the team took third this time at nationals in Personal Finance in St. Louis.

“Many other states mandate a personal finance class for their high schools, which we don’t have,” said Borders, “so we were up against some pretty large schools.”

Following a regional competition, a state competition and a national qualifying test, the team had its sights set on the Economic Challenge nationals.

“Their average study time was 15-20 hours some weeks. It got more intense closer to competitions,” Stockard said.

“We used five to six different textbooks, older test questions and Internet sites for practice,” said Hardekopf.

“Once, on a weekend, we went through over 1,000 questions at one time,” said Toso.

“We were there at least 10 hours,” said Grams.

One important aspect of their practice sessions was buzzer practice, to be quick to answer. “Two against two was the favorite,” said Toso.

After returning from the St. Louis competition Monday night, May 14 the team left that Wednesday morning, May 16, for New York City.

“The district allowed me to take the team a couple days early and we stayed with a friend of mine in New Jersey,” Stockard said. “That gave them some time for sightseeing.”

One of the highlights of the trip was a boat cruise that included Manhattan Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Hudson River.

But the consensus of all team members was that their favorite place was the A-1 Pizzeria in New Jersey where they ate every day, agreeing that it was cheap and good.

They also saw “Spiderman” on Broadway. “It was awesome,” said Hardekopf.

A total of more than 26,000 students competed across the nation, with more than 1,500 teams in 33 states trying for a spot in the championship. There were only three other teams to qualify for national competition. They were Carmel High School, Indiana; Iolani School, Hawaii; and Michael E. DeBakey High School, Texas.

The competition was filmed live at WNET studios in New York, at street level facing two walls of windows. It was an oral quiz bowl about complex economic concepts and theories of micro- and macroeconomics, international economics and current events.

“There are some hard concepts to grasp, but once you understand, it’s easy,” said Grams. “There’s a point at which the light bulb goes on.”

Hardekopf liked the Economic Challenge events more than Personal Finance, since there was more logic involved and less memorization.

“I like the thought process,” said Borders. “I’d never thought like that before, but it applies to everything.”

“Micro-economics was easier, involving more individualized decision-making,” Grams said. “It’s more real — not as conceptual.”

“I was a bad impulse buyer, but now I’ve slowed down to consider what else I could be buying with that money,” said Hardekopf.

The team was delighted to meet the chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Narayana Kocherlakota, while competing there in April.

“Mr. Stockard had been talking about wanting to meet him, but while Mr. Stockard was busy talking to someone else, we were taken to meet Mr. Kocherlakota,” Hardekopf said. “It was great.”

Hardekopf will be majoring in economics next year, but is not yet certain where that will be.

Toso is headed to the University of Minnesota-Morris, where he will also major in economics

Grams will be at the College of St. Scholastica but will not be taking any economics classes. He hopes to get a job tutoring fellow students in economics, though.

Borders knows he will not be pursuing an economics major, but “I will always use these thinking skills,” he said.

“This competition has helped my work ethic a lot,” said Hardekopf. “Now I realize that when I work for things, they work out a little bit better.”

“I’ve talked to some juniors who are worried about the time cost of being on the team,” said Grams. “But it’s really worthwhile.”

“I told a couple younger students to start studying now,” Hardekopf said.