National Personal Finance Challenge

These four Lansdowne High School seniors are keeping up with their personal finances by checking the Wall Street Journal after coming in sixth in a recent nationwide competition in St. Louis. Jordan Thomas (left), Mandela Jones, Evan Richards and Michael DeLar also finished first in the Maryland contest. Their advisers are Mike Martin and Greg Karpers. (Photo by Phil Grout / May 25, 2011)

Lansdowne High School’s state champion team traveled far and came close in the recent National Personal Finance Challenge in St. Louis.

The local squad returned home May 18 after finishing sixth out of 13 teams in the second annual event, which was presented by the Missouri Council on Economic Education, with funding from Wells Fargo Advisers.

At the end of the five-hour competition, Mike Martin, who coached the team with Greg Karpes, said an official informed him afterward that the point differential between first and seventh was “tiny.”


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“We can hold our own with anybody,” said Martin of Lansdowne students Mike Delair, Mandela Jones, Jordan Thomas and Evan Richards.

In the championship round, a school from Minnesota, the eventual champion, went head-to-head with a school from Illinois and Martin wrote down each of the questions.

“They easily could have answered any of those questions,” Martin said of his star pupils.

The trip west did not start out well for the Lansdowne team. The four seniors sat for three hours in the stale, warm air of a motionless airplane parked on a tarmac at Baltimore Washington International May 15 waiting to take off..

Instead of playing video games, sending text messages or making phone calls, the four whipped out some study materials and went to work.

“It just showed how determined we were,” said Jones, a Catonsville resident. “We all decided to get together and study and use the best of our time to get ready for our competition.”

It wasn’t until 10 p.m. that the students arrived at their hotel. They grabbed some dinner and did some last-minute cramming before going to bed at 11:30 p.m.

“We didn’t get much sleep, but I think the studying helped us. So I wouldn’t complain much about that,” said Thomas, a Lansdowne resident. “We’re definitely proud of going there, competing and getting sixth.”

To get to the competition, Lansdowne bested 24 other high schools in Maryland at the Personal Finance Challenge on April 7 at Towson University.

“It was awesome, just knowing that we were the best in the state of Maryland,” Delair said.

In the final round of the competition, the students worked together to answer a series of questions and earn a perfect score.

“I got tense when we were trying to figure out some of the questions,” said Richards, a Baltimore Highlands resident. “The ability to work together at the end, I think that helped a lot.”

After finishing the three rounds of competition in St. Louis, Thomas said he and the team were confident that they were one of the top teams.

“The hardest part was probably sitting there looking at each other and knowing you did good but getting the scores back and the shock of knowing you didn’t do as well as you thought you did,” said Thomas, who will attend the Community College of Baltimore County to study business in the fall.

Delair, who admitted he may not be the best loser, agreed..

“No sour grapes at all,” said the Lansdowne resident, who will attend West Virginia University in the fall to study finance. “I was just so happy and proud of me and my teammates for getting that far.”

The trip brought more than just a sense of accomplishment.

“It’s a good thing to end your senior year with,” said Jones, who will study finance at the University of Maryland in the fall. “(The other students we met) were all very professional. We got to meet them all and network.”

In addition to competing, the four enjoyed a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game and visited the Gateway Arch.

“Just being in the city of St. Louis was like nothing I’ve ever done before,” said Richards, who will study accounting and political science at Towson University in the fall. “Everything was so relaxed. I didn’t talk to a mean-spirited person the whole time we were out there.”

While the students enjoyed the trip and their success, they also know with graduation scheduled for June 2, their time together is running out.

“I don’t even want to think about it, I’m going to miss them so much,” Delair said. “I wish we could do it again next year, but we’re all seniors, so we’ve got to move on.”