by Jennifer Sierra
Ed Long taught in the Ft. Thomas school district for 27 years. Now he is a teacher of gifted and talented students at Lincoln Elementary and coaches the school’s chess and robotics teams. Long started the chess club at Lincoln four years ago. He incorporates chess into some of his lesson plans for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders and also holds an organized after-school chess club for middle school students who want to take chess to the next level. Long teaches chess to 250 children at Lincoln every week and 60 in the after-school program. Cris & Holly Collinsworth are responsible for providing Dayton Independent Schools with plenty of chess sets so kids can learn and practice this challenging game.
Every year the Cris Collinsworth ProScan Fund hosts a regional chess tournament at Paul Brown Stadium called “The Queen City Classic.” This tournament reaches well beyond the tri-state area, involving children from places like Michigan, Tennessee, and West Virginia, and more than 750 participate in this weekend event which is held annually in March. The Friday night session includes Grandmasters of chess playing blindfolded matches with each other and playing 15 kids simultaneously in a match. Yes, you read that correctly—each Grandmaster plays 15 kids in a match at one time, playing a move at one board with one child and then moving to another board and making another move, and so on. Last year one of the Grandmasters, Gregory Kaidanov, visited Lincoln Elementary and played chess with students. At this year’s tournament, Lincoln 2nd graders came in third place, 3rd graders came in fourth place, and 4th graders came in sixth place in their respective divisions, each of which is comprised of 15 teams.
Ed Long is an advocate for kids playing chess not just in Dayton, but also Ft. Thomas and Bellevue, where he helped organize other clubs. Participants from all three towns get together regularly and play one another. “The kids play chess and become friends,” Long says. In May, Pleasant Hill Academy from Cincinnati will come to Dayton to play chess. According to Long, teachers have noticed students’ increased abilities to focus for longer periods of time, as well as an overall improvement in reading and math scores. Long also says there is an even bigger impact on children when they experience the competition of chess tournaments: “The kids learn good life skills in chess like patience, thinking ahead, and concentration. I have never seen one incident of poor sportsmanship in a chess tournament. They shake hands with their opponent before a match and say ‘good luck’ and they shake hands after a match and say ‘good game’. There is no gloating when one wins, either. I firmly believe that every human should learn how to play chess.”
As the robotics coach, Long oversees his elementary-age children as they build their robots and write computer programs to command them. Competitions are demanding and stressful—the kids are given only three minutes to have their robots perform various tasks. “Even I get nervous,” Long admits. He guided his Lincoln team to a fourth place finish at a recent district competition that included more than 30 teams, qualifying them for the state tournament at Rupp Arena in Lexington, which was held this past week. “It wasn’t our day,” Long laments. “I am proud of the kids. They gave it their best shot. It was our first time to qualify for state tournament. The kids are already talking about coming back to the tournament next year.” Dayton’s robotics kits couldn’t compare to the ones that some other schools had and it is difficult to compete when using an older generation of equipment. In order to be competitive, Long says Dayton would need to obtain five current generation kits, which would cost approximately $2000.00.
According to Long, though, it isn’t just about winning: “It is the same mentality as chess with regard to sportsmanship. The kids cheer for each other and support one another.” Despite their glaring equipment disadvantage, Long wants to bring out the best in his Dayton team and hopes that they learned from this year’s tournament: “The kids now know when we practice, every minute counts. If we are going to compete we have to stay focused. The Reds aren’t going to win if they just show up to practice and goof off. I keep telling the kids, ‘Persevere, persevere, don’t give up!’ Half the battle is showing up and you try your best. Give it your best shot and if you don’t win, you still walk away with something.” It is clear that Ed Long takes pride in trying to prepare kids with the skills they need—not just for school competitions, but for real life, too.