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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School students Lila Thulin, left, and Rosie Phillips are part of a group of students battling it out with Westminster College students to see who's better at choosing a stock portfolio.

Students at Westminster College are teaming up against seventh-graders from Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School to compete at choosing stocks, putting a virtual $1 million on the line.

The students went head-to-head Friday for a six-week contest to determine who can pick a better stock portfolio, and the winners will get pizza from the opposing team.

"None of us are financial gurus, but we all know there are a few stocks that are always good," said John Cook, an economics major and captain of Westminster's team. "This is a great way to get them excited about the financial world, which is really going to be the focus in their future."

Eight honors students at Westminster will try to best 19 seventh-graders who have elected to take a six-week personal finance class at Rowland Hall. Stephen Bennhoff, principal at the middle school and professor of the class, said it gives the students a practical approach to how to handle money. Nearly 75 percent of the private school's enrolled students end up taking Bennhoff's course.

"We learn how money works in their world," Bennhoff said. The course involves information about checking, credit and debit accounts, as well as interest and investment options. He said the contest experience will allow his students to see how volatile the market can be, giving them practical experience.

When the class began on Monday, most of the class was unaware what a stock even was.

"We're hoping for that real underdog story," Bennhoff said.

The middle-schoolers split into seven teams, all named after famous investors, and each chose two to three stocks to invest in. They will collectively compete against the college students, who picked about a dozen stocks of their own in which to invest their $1 million.

"Because it's Christmas, we picked stocks we believe that people will be buying into this time of year," Cook said.

Names like Costco, Best Buy, Anheuser Busch and other retailers and airlines showed up in the college students' portfolio. The seventh-graders took a different approach, choosing energy and oil companies, winter-clothing retailers and several lesser-known companies in which to place their trust.

Meghan Henderson, one of the seventh-graders, said the class has been watching several stock prices throughout the week in order to help make their guesses. Her team picked up Chevron and Goldman Sachs, hoping that the holiday rush in the economy would increase the seventh-graders' chances of winning.

Ryan Hessenthaler, assistant professor of finance at Westminster and a former stock trader, was on hand to officiate the contest and to show students how to use Investopedia, a simulated online trading program, but he was tight-lipped about offering trading advice.

"They'll all come out of this with a better understanding of what a stock is and if they should invest in them, as well as how to do it," he said. "They'll see how the markets work and learn the risks associated."

He was impressed with the diversity of the portfolios and said it could be "anyone's game."

"In a short six- or seven-week time period, it's really a coin toss," Hessenthaler said.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com