Img_6864The R-FH Euro challengers: from left, Sam Wilson, Robbie Trocchia, Margot Keale, Steven Fuschetti and Jennifer Lapp.

If you think understanding the U.S. economy is a brain-buster, try overlaying its complexity with currency exchange rates, European history and social trends unique to a post-Cold War continent.

That, in a thumbnail, was the starting point for five sophomores from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High who competed as a team in something called the Euro Challenge last month.


Then they had to develop their teamwork, public speaking and time-management skills, preparing themselves to answer arcane questions under the gun about the “decoupling” of the U.S. and European economies, among other arcane topics.

This for a group of kids who didn’t know their CPI from their GDP at the start of the school year.

Well, cutting to the chase: after two grueling and nerve-wracking days of competition, the R-FH team took first place among 47 teams from seven states in a final held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in late April.

The event is part of an effort to boost awareness of the European Union and its 10-year-old currency, the euro, which at the moment happens to be giving the dollar a walloping.

Trying to absorb it all while keeping pace with economics teacher and team adviser Joe Lanza was no stroll in the park, team members say. “We were always having to ask Mr. Lanza, ‘can you repeat that?'” says Margot Keale, of Fair Haven. Another team member likened contest preparations to “going to night school for economics.”

“It isn’t for everyone,” says Rumsonite Steven Fuschetti. “There’s work outside of the classroom that you need to do — a lot of it. People who want to join a club to sit in the back, go to a meeting every two weeks and just fade into the woodwork — it’s not that kid of club. You really need to be involved in every single meeting for hours on end. It just never ends.”

In the two weeks leading up to the competition, the fivesome of Keale, Fuschetti, Jennifer Lapp, Robbie Trocchia and Sam Wilson, along with alternate Artin Sarraf, spent four hours a night, five nights a week drilling down into data about their chosen topic: the effect of an aging population on the economy of Greece and beyond.

At the end of the semifinal round, the team was convinced it would be bounced from competition; things had not gone as smoothly as they’d hoped. They’d flubbed some questions from the judges. And when the last team to make the finals was announced as the “Rumson Renegades,” they thought another school had made it; Rumson’s mascot, of course, is the bulldog.

But the team made the last round and won it all. Its members will share in $7,500 in scholarship money provided by the Moody’s Foundation.

The top three teams, in fact, were from New Jersey: R-FH was followed by Montclair High School and Mount St. Mary Academy in Watchung.

(R-FH also has a team in the junior/senior Fed Challenge, which focuses on the U.S. economy. That team made it to the semifinals for the New York region but didn’t advance in this year’s competition, which was won by Marlboro High School. Lanza is the adviser for that club as well.)

It’s not quite a trip to the Continent, but the team will travel to Washington next week to visit the delegation of the European Commission, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, and the International Monetary Fund.

They kick off their victory lap at tonight at the Fair Haven borough council meeting, where they’ll be honored for their achievement at 7p, and tomorrow night to the Rumson-Fair Haven board of ed for more laurels at 7:30p.

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