Playing chess improves your mental capacity and leads to higher academic performance.
It could be true.
Some folks believe it.
But who cares? Playing chess is
just plain fun!
Welcome to West High, the chess powerhouse of Utah. The sixty members of the chess club play during their lunch periods, after school and at state tournaments. The West High team has won eight state tournaments.
Presided over by John Engel, the affable English teacher who doubles as club coordinator, the chess club kids have a place where it’s okay to be smart. “These kids play because they love to play. It’s battle. It’s an addiction. I certainly don’t have to motivate them, and their brilliance has nothing to do with me. Whenever I play, they wind up kicking my ass!” Engel said.
Elementary and middle schools are the places where many club members first learned chess. Engel believes that youngsters are drawn to the game because it offers strategy and a hands-on feeling that video games lack. “There is something about touching the piece that kids enjoy,” he said.
Watching a match between junior Peter Ashworth and senior Sarah Silcox suggests other reasons students are attracted to the game. It’s possible to socialize and concentrate at the same time.
“Ah, you can run but you can’t hide.”
“Are you doing the musical this year?”
“Why didn’t you move your king?”
“How are your classes going?”
For a generation obsessed with iPhones, a chessboard creates a battlefield and common ground for personal interaction. Both Peter and Sarah are in the International Baccalaureate program at West and both learned the game from family members. Engel proudly refers to Sarah as the “queen of the chess club.” She is a lot more as well, capturing last year’s honors in the state chemistry olympiad. She hopes to study engineering “I wish more girls did math and science,” she said. For her, chess is a way to relax and “it certainly feels good when you win.”
The history of chess spans some 1500 years, starting in India and spreading through the Arab world and Europe.
As long as the kids at West High stay enthused, it will likely continue for at least a few years longer. §
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