Friday mornings in the Lower School Dining Commons at The Episcopal School of Dallas are full of excitement; rooks can often be heard rolling across the floor as students push back from tables to scramble across the tiles to record their latest victory. Little black boxes are smacked with excitement each time a move is completed. Cheers frequently erupt as students gather around in groups to encourage their peers. There’s plenty of friendly competition at the Lower School Chess Club meetings, but the meetings are two-fold.
“Chess Club not only allows students to learn the strategy of the game, but the mornings also provides the social interaction between their peers in other grade levels,” Zora Skelton, the club’s sponsor, explained. “Throughout the year, you see first graders gain the courage to challenge a third grader, and the interactions teach them how to accept a win and manage a loss.”
At one end of the Dining Commons stands a leaderboard that records the standing of each participant. To advance up the ladder, a student has to defeat a higher-ranked opponent. Each colored ladder represents a different level of difficulty the students must navigate through during the year to reach the most challenging rings.
“Everyone’s trying to beat the person at the top of the blue ladder, but he’s so good that it’s really hard to win against him,” second-grader James Altizer said. “Before I leave the Lower School my goal is to beat everyone.”
At the start of the morning, students grab a chessboard, game pieces, and a partner to squeeze a few games in with before the lessons begin. About halfway through the morning, Hermanio Baez and Paco Gomez divide the students into groups to teach them new strategies and tactics.
Gomez, who currently serves as the group’s parent liaison, has been a valuable member of the club for years. He is also responsible for organizing ESD’s “Fit for a King” tournament every fall. (See sidebar for more information).
“Chess is a fantastic game that can benefit every child. The game helps develop thinking skills, such as the ability to visualize, analyze, and think critically,” Gomez explained. “Chess Club brings together children of different ages and genders in an activity they all enjoy, while also teaching them about sportsmanship, how to win graciously, and not to give up when encountering defeat.”
Started 13 years ago by Kaitlin Smith ’13, the club has grown to as many as 60 students on any given Friday. With lessons tailored for every skill level, students of all abilities are encouraged to attend a game.
“When the club started, we had between five and eight students,” Skelton said. “Since that first year, lessons are provided at each level and students are encouraged to play chess regardless of whether they win or lose. Many students choose to participate in weekend chess tournaments for additional exposure and competition.”
Several students say that learning how to play chess has also helped them become more studious and disciplined in the classroom. Through the lessons they learn from Mr. Baez and Mr. Gomez, participants say they have improved their memory and concentration, and can focus better on assignments.
“Chess helps me do better on my homework because I can stay focused and pay attention to what is in front of me,” Edwin Bishop, a fifth-grade student said.
Parents are also invited to attend the Friday morning meetings and challenge their son or daughter to a game, or offer advice to an entire table as they face-off against another parent. For some, just watching the students yell “checkmate” or move their picture up on the ladder is rewarding enough.
“My favorite memory of Chess Club is ongoing,” Skelton said. “No matter how tired and worn out I am, coming in on a Friday morning before 7:00 a.m. and finding one or two students waiting for me in the Dining Commons waiting to play chess… How can anyone not love Chess Club?”
On November 15, The Episcopal School of Dallas will host the second annual "Fit for a King" chess tournament on the Merrell Road Campus. Students of all ages and grade levels are encouraged to participate in the competition. Visit www.esdallas.org/chess for more information and to register your student today!