It all started in 2003 for Bryant Elementary School principal Jon Pye.
He grabbed a chess board out of the closet to play a kindergarten student. He played and he lost.
“The people in that family were very smart folks,” Pye said of the kindergartner. “She beat me soundly. I am no Boris Spassky or Bobby Fischer (world champion and grandmaster chess players). I knew at that point that I needed to get better. I had to make sure that young woman played chess the rest of her life. She was brilliant.”
That occurred during the inaugural year of the school’s chess club that began with just four students participating. It has grown to accommodate 27 children in this year. The club, which is an after-school activity, has been around for 14 years and has been a success, Pye said.
The club meets every Wednesday at the Independence School District elementary near McCoy Park, and students of all skill levels have participated. Adult volunteers, including former teachers Terry Snapp and John Scofield, helped teach them how to play. It is available to students in third through fifth grades.
“They teach moves and strategies,” Pye said of the volunteers. “We also give the students workbooks to take home so they can read and learn the game.
“It lasts about six weeks, and (the games) get serious. I have (students) looking to take me on. I tell them, ‘You are a lot better than I am. Find better competition.’”
The chess club is a way to help educate students, Pye said.
“One thing I have noticed is how (chess) is related to mathematics and the language of math,” he said. “The math that is behind that language is amazing. The students were able to use their deduction powers and their skills and deeper thinking while playing chess. It’s amazing to watch the kids develop from third to fifth grade.”
Fourth grader Mika Shanteau and fifth grader Tessa Smith, two students in the club, have found benefits from their participation in it.
“I really like it,” Tessa said. “It’s a lot of thinking and a lot of strategy. I knew how to play. I was in a chess club at the library with the same (volunteers). This was really cool coming back and I learned strategies I didn’t know before. I beat my uncle, mom, brother and my grandma.”
Mika, who learned how to play for the first time this year, says one of the best parts about playing chess with her schoolmates was meeting her fellow students.
“It’s really fun because it’s after school and you get to play with other people and meet new people,” she said. “You meet people you wouldn’t normally talk to. I learned how to set up the board, which I never knew how to do.”
Pye is retiring as principal after this year and said he hopes the new person to take his place will continue the club next school year.
“They can make his or her decision whether to continue it or not,” Pye said. “I know Terry Snapp and John Scofield will be ready, willing and able (to volunteer).”