The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Students flock to new chess club

 

August 17, 2017

Students in the Chess Club at John C. Thomas Middle School picked up some trophies at a state tournament last year. The club had 15 members when teacher Joel McEntire started it in the middle of the school year. He has 25 signed up already for the coming school year. Middle school students, and even some fifth graders, are picking up the game quickly, and beating more seasoned opponents from Longview/Kelso schools. McEntire is hoping some experienced chess players in the community will join them, to teach, challenge, and just play chess with the kids. Courtesy photos.

Joel McEntire, who teaches science and language arts at John C. Thomas Middle School, is looking for some community members to join him in teaching, challenging, and just playing the game of chess with students in their club at school.

When he started the Chess Club in the middle of the 2016-2017 school year, he had no inkling of the kind of turn out he would get. Fifteen students showed up. This year, 25 have already signed up, and school doesn't start until September 5.

"I've known the rules for years," McEntire said, "but I didn't start playing and studying the game until a couple years ago. I want to contribute to this family and this small community. The response from the kids was overwhelming. It was almost too much. I couldn't answer everyone's questions. I couldn't be at everyone's game to see what they were doing. I couldn't give enough information out."

"We've got a core group coming back from last year," McEntire added. "We don't have a lot of competition. We've beaten everyone at the schools around us. We have this great opportunity to expand, go to more tournaments, and do more things. I'm thinking that the missing piece is community involvement."

In other words, he needs some help.

The school agreed to buy the chess boards and pieces for the club. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students started showing up for the lunchtime tournaments and attending the club on Fridays.

"I realized there was some talent in our small town," McEntire said. "I began to wonder how far they could go."

After a little research, he found out there was a state tournament for K-12.

Thirteen students agreed to go, and four of them placed in the tournament. Some of them had never played before last year.

The club started competing in and winning tournaments at Three Rivers Mall against students from schools in Longview/Kelso.

"The kids from Cathlamet won every single prize there," McEntire said. "First, second, and third in both brackets."

There is a beginner's bracket for anyone who had played for less than a month. Everyone else is a veteran.

Joel McEntire, who teaches science and language arts at John C. Thomas Middle School, is looking for some community members to join him in teaching, challenging, and just playing the game of chess with students in their club at school.

When he started the Chess Club in the middle of the 2016-2017 school year, he had no inkling of the kind of turn out he would get. Fifteen students showed up. This year, 25 have already signed up and school doesn't start until September 5.

"I've known the rules for years," McEntire said, "but I didn't start playing and studying the game until a couple years ago. I want to contribute to this family and this small community. The response from the kids was overwhelming. It was almost too much. I couldn't answer everyone's questions. I couldn't be at everyone's game to see what they were doing. I couldn't give enough information out."

"We've got a core group coming back from last year," McEntire added. "We don't have a lot of competition. We've beaten everyone at the schools around us. We have this great opportunity to expand, go to more tournaments, and do more things. I'm thinking that the missing piece is community involvement."

In other words, he needs some help.

The school agreed to buy the chess boards and pieces for the club. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students started showing up for the lunchtime tournaments and attending the club on Fridays.

"I realized there was some talent in our small town," McEntire said. "I began to wonder how far they could go."

After a little research, he found out there was a state tournament for K-12.

Thirteen students agreed to go, and four of them placed in the tournament. Some of them had never played before last year.

The club started competing in and winning tournaments at Three Rivers Mall against students from schools in Longview/Kelso.

"The kids from Cathlamet won every single prize there," McEntire said. "First, second, and third in both brackets."

There is a beginner's bracket for anyone who had played for less than a month. Everyone else is a veteran.

McEntire wants to start this year off with a bang, so he is inviting community members to join him and the Chess Club at the J.A. Wendt Multipurpose Room on August 26 at 6 p.m. for refreshments and games.

"I hope people from the community will come," he said, "people that know the game, to come and sit down and play with middle schoolers and teach them a trick. We're looking for wisdom, help, financial backing, moral support. Anything the community can give our club. Not everyone is cut out for sports. This is another avenue to be part of a team and to be able to show improvement and take pride in your victories. It's a hard thing to defeat another human across the table that wants to defeat you. Its as tough as any other sport, but you get a lot less bruises, and a lot less injuries."

And as he likes to point out, you can always get better at chess, regardless of your age.

The club members taught their younger schoolmates the game too. According to McEntire, they took the boards and pieces down the kindergarten class and taught them the names of the pieces and their moves last year.

"They used the pieces to tell a story about trapping the king," McEntire said.

They plan to visit other classrooms this year and he hopes that eventually students in every grade will be playing the game.

McEntire learned the game when he was young. He played a little, but it wasn't until a few years ago that he began to wonder who was the best player in the world. Could he beat him, he wondered. How do you know if someone is a good chess player?

He found a site online and started playing. He got a rating.

In his mind, it was the equivalent of a peewee level football player. He's been playing since then, and he imagines he has improved to a second string player on a high school football team.

"It's a really tough game," McEntire said. "The toughness intrigued me. You can play your whole life and never play the same game twice."

He may be second string high school football, but some of the middle school students are beating him just a few months after taking up the game.

"I think there is a resurgence of chess, and I'm glad we're a part of it," McEntire said. "The thing that is great about chess, is that the game is not preferential to kids who get straight A's. There were kids who don't turn in their homework or struggle with math or language arts, but boy they could really dominate on the board. You think, if it's an intellectual game, and kids are struggling academically, how is that they are able to reconcile that? I don't know, but it was a joy to see kids that struggle in school be really great on the board, or troublemakers that were gentlemen on the board. Historically we haven't had girls in chess clubs, but they came in and kicked butt. It's equal opportunity. It's not anything but how you play the game."

Again, community members are welcome to join the Chess Club at the Multipurpose Room in J.A. Wendt Elementary School, on August 26, at 6 p.m. for games and refreshments.

 

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