Five students from the Clark County Day Treatment Center are participating in the Susan Polger World Open Chess Tournament beginning today in Chicago.
Not bad for a group of students who learned to play the game last fall.
When Day Treatment Center Principal Greg Hollon introduced chess into the school shortly after being hired in 2010, he had no idea how quickly his students would progress with the game in a such short time.
Hollon, an avid chess player himself, said he brought chess into the classrooms at the center because he felt like the skills needed to succeed in chess were the skills his students needed to succeed in life.
In the beginning, each of the program’s 30 students played chess twice a week for 45 minutes. But, they quickly fell in love with the game, Hollon said, and when they finished their work each day, they would sit down and play more.
The students’ skills progressed so quickly that only six months after learning to play, four of the students placed second out of a 30-team, three-state tournament in northern Kentucky in January. That win qualified them to play in the United States Chess Federation K-12 National Tournament in Nashville this spring, where they finished ninth out of 316 teams.
Hollon said that he felt like the students would like chess when he began it, but how far they’ve come has been a surprise.
“I thought it would catch on and I thought they could get good at it,” Hollon said. “But to be playing in Nashville at the nationals, no I would not have pictured that. This is very much a pleasant surprise.”
Hollon said that when school began this year, he wanted find a way to keep interest in chess at the high level it had gained in the spring, and when he found his students’ finish at nationals qualified them, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I thought we needed to take advantage of this because everyone still has that fever for playing chess, and every tournament we can enter just makes it that much more important and that much more relevant for the student,” Hollon said. “They have performed and represented the school district very well, and they’ve earned this. They’ve really done a good job.”
Hollon said the experience at the other tournaments prepared his students well for what they will encounter in Chicago, and he expects them to do very well.
As for the students, they’re excited about the opportunity to compete again.
“We’re looking forward to going to Chicago,” sophomore Patrick Lee said. “When we went to the nationals, we just wanted to have a good time and play chess, and we were surprised how good we did. We’re all excited about going to Chicago, and we think we can do well there too.”
Lee said that when he first came to the program last year, he had never played chess and didn’t expect to like it, but that changed very quickly.
“When I first came to Day Treatment and they talked about chess, I didn’t think it would be any fun at all.¿I¿thought only geeks played it,” Lee said. “It only took about two weeks to fall in love with it. About two weeks after I learned I started teaching new people how to play, and we play every chance we get.”
The Day Treatment Center is a 90-successful-day program limited to 30 students at a time. Once they complete their 90 days, the students are transitioned back into their former schools.
Hollon said Lee and the other players are a great example of the success the program has with its students.
“This is a smaller environment, and a lot of students do better in the smaller environment. We can show the students that love and tender care, if you will, that gives them something they need in their lives. All our staff really believes in what these students can accomplish and that belief transfers over to the kids and it shows in their accomplishments,” Hollon said. “Chess is just another tool in their development. There’s a confidence, even in those that don’t go to the tournaments. They demonstrate it by having a skill they’re good at. It’s really important to their self esteem, and it’s given them a real enjoyment to come to school.”
Contact Bob Flynn at email@example.com.