Mitchell and Kumar win LifeSmarts title for Cheney High School


Adam Smith

Cheney High School seniors Austin Mitchell and Jessica Kumar took top FBLA honors.

A pair of 2013 Cheney High School seniors have earned a first for the school that might be difficult to repeat – a national championship.

Graduates Austin Mitchell and Jessica Kumar teamed to win the first-ever Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) LifeSmarts competition in Anaheim, Calif. Established in 1994, LifeSmarts has been a program of the National Consumer League since 2000.

According to its website, LifeSmarts is “an educational opportunity that develops the consumer and marketplace knowledge and skills of teenagers in a fun way and rewards them for this knowledge.” The program for middle- and high-school students “complements the curriculum” already in place to teach workplace skills such as personal finance, health and safety, the environment, technology and consumer rights and responsibilities.

Cheney High teacher and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) adviser Karlyn Urdahl began the Blackhawks’ LifeSmarts chapter about 10 years ago, and last fall passed duties to technology teacher and FBLA adviser Adam Smith as FBLA had come on board with the pilot program. Smith said Cheney had the only two teams in Washington and took an online test to qualify for nationals, with Mitchell and Kumar placing first out of 400 teams, the top eight heading to Anaheim.

In an email, LifeSmarts program director Lisa Hertzberg said the competition was part of the larger FBLA National Leadership Conference, June 27-30 with the LifeSmarts competition June 28-29.

“The 18 teams competed four times, an individual assessment, a team activity and two buzzer matches for a cumulative score,” Hertzberg wrote. “The top six teams competed in the semifinals, with the top two advancing to the final match.”

Smith said the first two rounds were done in pool play, with Mitchell and Kumar emerging first in their pool, third overall. The final two rounds were “Jeopardy-style” question and answer competitions, with round three being against the other top three teams in their pool. Smith said the students were all pretty impressive with their answers.

“I don’t think the guy actually finished a question before somebody buzzed in,” he said.

Cheney won “handily,” and faced the other pool finalist, George Marshall High School FBLA from Falls Church, Va. in a 20-question final match. Smith said Mitchell and Kumar fell behind early, but rallied to win on the 19th question.

Smith said the questions were very difficult and worded in such a way that a contestant had to really understand what the question was asking in order to come up with the correct answer. While the FBLA competition was a pilot program, and has now become a regular FBLA event, the teams competing were obviously not new to the program and were very skilled.

Smith praised the work Mitchell and Kumar did in preparation for the competition, work that took place over the entire school year. He also said his only role in the team’s success was to talk Mitchell into doing LifeSmarts his final year in school.

“Ninety-nine percent of the credit goes to her (Urdahl) for getting this going,” Smith said. “I’ll take 1 percent for talking him into it.”

In addition to the national title, Mitchell also placed second in the Personal Finance individual category competition.

John McCallum can be reached at


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