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.
“I 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,” 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 he’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.
“The kids really love it and it is nice to see the kids involved in a lifelong activity that is a problem-solving game,” Sammons said. “The kids like it so much when they have some free time they come down to my room and borrow the chess sets to play.”
Sammons said he’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.
“You can’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,” Sammons said.
Even those that aren’t the highest rank chess players are learning — learning how to lose and someday maybe win.
“Win or lose the kids are learning something,” Sammons said.
A chess player himself for many years, Sammons said he finds himself especially drawn to the game during football season.
“I play to keep my mind fresh,” said Sammons, who helps coach the Wapakoneta Redskins. “Football is like a big chess match.”
The club’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.
“I’d played before, but it’s been a couple years. It really puts your strategy against another man’s,” Thrush said about what he likes about the game.
Of course he said the best part is beating his opponent’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.
“I’m sure it helps me with strategy,” Thrush said of all his playing time. “It’s very entertaining and it feels so good to be able to beat someone.”
Chris Schwartz remembers being in the Chess Club in fourth-grade at Northridge Elementary School and learning to play chess even before that.
“It’s something that makes you think,” Schwartz said. “There’s no luck involved.”
He said he didn’t hesitate when he heard a Chess Club was forming at the high school.
“I knew I’d be joining,” said Schwartz, who tries to play once a day at school and sometimes online at home as well. “I’m definitely improving.”
The senior said he’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 wasn’t involved in a club at school but he’s freshening up his knowledge.
“It’s definitely something I’m going to continue to do the rest of my life,” Schwartz said.
Chess Club member Joey Jose said the game is something he’s always been interested in after his mother taught him when he was just a young boy.
“I love how it is constantly changing and all the different variations,” 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 he’s playing a lot more than he used to, even spending as much as an hour a day on chess.com at home.
“I make sure I keep practicing different moves,” Jose said. “Practice makes perfect.
“I think chess will stay with me for the rest of my life.”