Four Hannibal High School students will display their financial skills during the tenth National Finance Challenge at the University of Nebraska on Friday, capping off a season of intense study and first place honors in state competition.
Dr. Kurt Haner, Finance Challenge Team leader and Business instructor, said team members have been practicing regularly with area personal finance experts, taking field trips and working on their presentation skills. To get to the national competition and represent the Show-Me State among the top 21 schools in the nation, the students completed a regional written test and went on to receive a first place trophy at the state competition at the University of Columbia. This is the first season for Juniors Victoria Butler, Xavier Pociask and Elizabeth Stilley, and Senior Aaron Evans is competing for the second time at the national competition.
During the National Finance Challenge, team members will receive an 8-10 page single-spaced document Friday morning, and they have two hours to create a financial plan for a fictional family. The team members have 10 minutes to present their plan to judges with financial planning backgrounds, and the judges ask the students questions about to test their skills, Haner said.
Victoria said she was "super excited" as the team prepared to head to the airport Thursday afternoon. She stressed that they have been practicing individually and as a team in and out of school throughout the season. She said the case studies and scenarios quickly became comfortable for her.
"After you do a couple, you get the hang of it, and it just becomes a system you go through with each one," she said.
Victoria acknowledged the demanding time frame for the team to create a financial plan, but she and her teammates felt well prepared for the competition.
"It's definitely stressful — like having a job — but it's just something that needs to be done, and it's fun learning about," she said.
Team members pored over a 140-page study guide in spring and presented financial scenarios in fall to Brad Kurz with Edward Jones and to Justin Gibson and Jeriod Turner with Benson Financial Group. Turner shared the Certified Financial Planner handbook for the students to study. Haner remembered how much the students improved, completing the first scenario in two weeks, the second scenario in one week and the third scenario in two-and-a-half hours.
"We did those three, and then that really helped prepare us for the actual competition — doing all those scenarios in advance," he said.
The students heard presentations from longtime local business owner Spike Ehrhardt, insurance agent Justin Parker and attorney Joseph Welch. Hannibal High School speech teacher Blake Niemann also worked with the team members to help them hone their presentation skills. The Hannibal Early Bird Kiwanis Club helped fund the trip to the national competition. Xavier said the experience has been rewarding.
"It's challenging, it's fun. I've learned the importance of studying," he said. "There's a lot of information to absorb — there's a whole lot of everything you deal with." Elizabeth shared her emotions leading up to the national competition.
"It's a really big honor and we've worked so hard for it," she said. "I'm just really excited, and it's great to represent the state."
Evans said team members modified their practice methods for a new scoring guide for this year's presentations. He said he feels confident as he prepares for his second year of national competition.
"I think we have a really good shot this year — we've done a lot of preparation," he said. "It's always exciting, because we get to go out and act like professionals. It's not often that high school students get to do that."
Personal Finance was first taught at Hannibal High School in 2002, and it became a required course beginning during the Class of 2010.
In addition to placing first in the state in 2019, the Finance Challenge Team has achieved numerous accolades since its inception in 2008. The team's milestones include receiving second place in the state in 2012 — to the team that received first place national honors — and first place in the state in 2013, 2014 and 2015, receiving national rankings of second, a tie for seventh and tenth in the nation, respectively. The team also received first and second place state awards in 2017, and first and third place state awards in 2018.
"We have been as high as second in the nation, so I'm hoping this is our year for my students to be first," Haner said.