Wapakoneta High School students, from left to right and front to back, Cole Thursh and Joey Jose, Jim Knippen and Chris Schwartz, and Bobby Paul and Zack Brannon, concentrate on their next move. Students at the school have formed a Chess Club this year.
The challenge of what move or moves to make next to beat their opponents has students at Wapakoneta High School flocking to chess sets during any free time they get.
Some students have never played before, while others have been playing for years or played when they were younger. Thirty of them have formed a club under the leadership of teacher Bill Sammons and are meeting weekly for matches and tournaments. The last time the high school had such an organization was 15 years ago.
â€śI found out by talking to the kids that they are very interested in chess so seeing there is a need I decided to make a chess club,â€ť said Sammons, who bought eight chess sets so that at least 16 students could play at a time.
They are hoping to obtain more chess sets and timers, as funding becomes available, and some day compete in the Ohio High School Chess Championship.
Looking further into the future, Sammons said heâ€™d also like to plan a community chess tournament when they get enough equipment.
For now, the club is trying to compete with other schools around the area, but to date Celina High School is the only school that has expressed interest.
â€śThe kids really love it and it is nice to see the kids involved in a lifelong activity that is a problem-solving game,â€ť Sammons said. â€śThe kids like it so much when they have some free time they come down to my room and borrow the chess sets to play.â€ť
Sammons said heâ€™s enjoyed watching students and student-athletes play chess and as a coach, he wants his players to be involved in as much competition as possible.
â€śYou canâ€™t coach competition and how players react to it, so I encourage all my players to be involved in the Chess Club because it is great competition,â€ť Sammons said.
Even those that arenâ€™t the highest rank chess players are learning â€” learning how to lose and someday maybe win.
â€śWin or lose the kids are learning something,â€ť Sammons said.
A chess player himself for many years, Sammons said he finds himself especially drawn to the game during football season.
â€śI play to keep my mind fresh,â€ť said Sammons, who helps coach the Wapakoneta Redskins. â€śFootball is like a big chess match.â€ť
The clubâ€™s highest ranked members include Cole Thrush, Jimmy Knippen, Joey Jose, George Jose, Zac Neumeier, Chris Schwartz and Brandon Christler, some of whom also played for the Wapakoneta Redskins on the gridiron this fall.
Senior Cole Thursh said after Sammons brought it up in class one day, he thought it was a good idea.
â€śIâ€™d played before, but itâ€™s been a couple years. It really puts your strategy against another manâ€™s,â€ť Thrush said about what he likes about the game.
Of course he said the best part is beating his opponentâ€™s strategy.
He plays with the club every Sunday and every day at school during his study hall, but also against himself on the computer or on his cell phone.
â€śIâ€™m sure it helps me with strategy,â€ť Thrush said of all his playing time. â€śItâ€™s very entertaining and it feels so good to be able to beat someone.â€ť
Chris Schwartz remembers being in the Chess Club in fourth-grade at Northridge Elementary School and learning to play chess even before that.
â€śItâ€™s something that makes you think,â€ť Schwartz said. â€śThereâ€™s no luck involved.â€ť
He said he didnâ€™t hesitate when he heard a Chess Club was forming at the high school.
â€śI knew Iâ€™d be joining,â€ť said Schwartz, who tries to play once a day at school and sometimes online at home as well. â€śIâ€™m definitely improving.â€ť
The senior said heâ€™s learning more where the game can go and to plan ahead for where he, rather than his opponent, want the game to end up.
The senior football player said he never forgot how to play chess in the years he wasnâ€™t involved in a club at school but heâ€™s freshening up his knowledge.
â€śItâ€™s definitely something Iâ€™m going to continue to do the rest of my life,â€ť Schwartz said.
Chess Club member Joey Jose said the game is something heâ€™s always been interested in after his mother taught him when he was just a young boy.
â€śI love how it is constantly changing and all the different variations,â€ť said Jose, whose mother, Priya Jose, used to play herself as a young girl in India.
Jose said the high school club has renewed his interest in the game and heâ€™s playing a lot more than he used to, even spending as much as an hour a day on chess.com at home.
â€śI make sure I keep practicing different moves,â€ť Jose said. â€śPractice makes perfect.
â€śI think chess will stay with me for the rest of my life.â€ť