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Chess more than a game

INDEPENDENCE -- Students sat in silence across from one another at cafeteria tables inside the Henry Hill Elementary School gymnasium Saturday, separated by chess boards.

Henry Hill fifth-grader Moises Falcon, left, faces off with Monmouth Elementary's Triston Wallen at the Chess for Success regional tournament Saturday. Falcon won the matchup and finished second in his age group.

Photo by Pete Strong

Henry Hill fifth-grader Moises Falcon, left, faces off with Monmouth Elementary's Triston Wallen at the Chess for Success regional tournament Saturday. Falcon won the matchup and finished second in his age group.

February 12, 2013

INDEPENDENCE -- Students sat in silence across from one another at cafeteria tables inside the Henry Hill Elementary School gymnasium Saturday, separated by chess boards.

Except for the sounds of an occasional high-five after a checkmate, one could hear a pin drop.

Outside the gym? Different story.

Students like Henry Hill fifth-grader Moises Falcon, 11, ran down the school's hallway, excitedly searching pairing lists on the walls for their next opponent.

Falcon won four of his matches at the Chess for Success regional chess tournament in Independence, placing second for his age group. He earned his third trip to the state tournament at the Portland Convention Center in March for the kindergarten- through fifth-grade bracket.

"My uncle taught me (how to play chess) and that's how I got started," Falcon said. "I really liked the game and I heard that there was a chess club (at school) and I asked if I could join."

Ninety-two students from elementary and middle schools in Polk, Benton, Marion and Yamhill counties participated in Saturday's tournament. Kids from Monmouth and Independence had a particularly strong showing.

Monmouth Elementary School was the team finalist and is bound for state competition. MES fifth-graders Chase Magill and Esai Leos also advanced.

The Portland-based Chess for Success program sponsors participating schools by providing funds for a coach, chess sets, lesson plans, snacks and their entrance fees into the regional and state tournaments.

"There are not as many people playing chess in the Salem or Corvallis areas, but we do have a lot of schools in the Central (district) that do play," said Richard Crockett, Chess for Success program operations director. "We target the Title I schools, such as Henry Hill, because we feel that those are the students who need the opportunity the most."

It's not just about learning the game. Skills and critical thinking from chess transfer directly into the classroom and, eventually, into the students' daily lives, Crockett said.

"It is an education program that uses chess as a vehicle to help students realize that they can put their minds to anything and can achieve great things," he said.

Confidence is one of the many character-building qualities taught through the game. It's worked for Falcon.

Before his final match, when asked if he'd move onto the next round, Falcon replied: "I always go."

"I don't really know how to explain it, but chess just calms my mind," he added.

Ash Creek student Sawyer Hartford, 10, agreed. He placed third in the tournament.

"Chess challenges my mind, and I just think it's a really fun game to play all the time. I play pretty much every day," Hartford said. "It's helped me learn what to do in class and not get hyperactive about stuff; it helps me focus."