by Jennifer Sierra
One Friday night in May, 61 students from Newport, Bellevue, Ft. Thomas and Dayton, Kentucky gather in a friendly battle of chess. These gatherings happen once a month throughout the school year. The students play each other and the outcomes are sometimes surprising but the matches end in friendly handshakes. The kids are taught sportsmanship and manners during their interactions with one another and the adult volunteers.
This night the matches were held at Lincoln Elementary School in Dayton where they were served pizza, drinks and snacks for dinner. Their coach Ed Long, was on hand with a few parents and volunteers to help keep the kids focused and motivated. Mr. Long is a strong influence with these kids. They admire him. Long’s stabilizing presence is heard through his stature and strong voice. He can command a room quickly. As with all kids, these kids get excited and can quickly get out of hand. Long manages the herd like a pro. He should with all of his experience. He is a retired school teacher from Ft. Thomas and started the chess clubs with the help of Cris and Holly Collinsworth and the Proscan Foundation.
“Chess is done during the school day at Lincoln Elementary and is part of the curriculum. We do a summer chess camp in July for 2nd and 3rd graders. We did really well in the Queen City Classic. We are building a great program here.” According to Mr. Long, kids can start learning to play chess in kindergarten.
Coach Mobarry from Ft. Thomas was a protege of Ed Long’s and has known him since Mobarry was in kindergarten. He started coaching the chess teams last year. Mobarry is a computer repair technician by day but his passion is working with these kids. The kids come out of their match and flock around Mobarry excitedly giving their results to him to record on his computer.
With a huge emphasis these days on kids playing sports like soccer and football, a large gap has appeared. What do the kids with academic skills do? How can they participate in group sports? Spelling bee’s, robotics clubs and chess teams fill that void. While kids might get concussions in football and soccer, kids that play chess, get smarter and the only thing injured might be their ego when they lose. According to many studies on brain development, chess enhances the analytical, critical thinking, and visualization skills particularly those of second to third graders. This is attributed to the rapid development of children in these age groups. Chess has also been linked to better IQ, math and verbal skills. The game is also known to improve mental acuity in the elderly.
Ryder Cochran (now 11) from Ft. Thomas, finished 3rd in state for 1st graders when he was 6. Timothy Haynes (age 10) from Newport, went to The Queen City Classic for the last 2 years and plays all year to stay sharp. 3rd grade chess champ, Kevin Buemy (age 9), started playing when he was 5. “Chess has helped me in school because it takes a lot of intelligence to do. It makes me think ahead. My grades have improved,” Buemy stated.
On this particular evening, twin brothers Vinny and Diego Gonzales of Dayton, Kentucky played each other and the match ended in a draw. The twins will be in 8th grade this fall and want to go into web site and video game development. The bond between them is striking, always standing with one arm on the other’s shoulder. They help each other out in school, play each other in chess and want to go to college together. It is clear how chess has sharpened these advanced students’ skills.
Candy Tucker, the mother of the Gonazales twins said that chess and Mr. Long have been an important part of the boys’ lives. One of the boys wrote a letter to Mr. Long in which he thanked Mr. Long for showing him what a teacher was supposed to be. Long choked up at the recollection. Tucker also said the boys were a bit of a challenge in their early years of school. This program and the “gifted program” at Lincoln helped the boys get focused and provided a much-needed challenge to the boys.
All of the students were mature and well-spoken. They seemed to look forward to the matches and they all had goals for their future. Long said the earlier the kids get involved in chess, the better it is for their brains. “It teaches them to think ahead. It instills in kids patience and sportsmanship. It teaches kids spatial awareness. Chess is the king of games. When IBM wanted to see if their computers were as powerful as the human brain, they challenged the world chess champion. To die without ever having learned to play chess, is like dying without ever having listened to music.”