John Eller, a special education teacher at Dillingham elementary school, helps out at chess club at the school library. Chess club is held every Wednesday afternoon and is open to the public. - Lawrence Hamilton

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Chess club teaches life skills, fun

April 15th, 2017 | Lawrence Hamilton, The Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman Print this article   Email this article  

On Wednesday afternoons, the quiet confines of the Dillingham Elementary School library are filled with the sounds of adults imploring kids to line their pieces up correctly.

Boxes filled with pawns, rooks, knights, kings and queens are emptied from their boxes as boards are laid out ready to be filled.

"Remember! White on right," a man bellows.

With instructions being disseminated, kids ponder what to do with their plastic armies. Some wave their pieces in the air before placing them on the board while others sit in meditative contemplation, their brows dutifully furrowed.

The April showers that keep much of Bristol Bay indoors provide ample opportunity for participants in the Dillingham School chess club to practice their bishop opening or the queen's gambit.

And for those who may be new to the king's game, the club can help you line up your knight or your bishop correctly.

Social skills and RTI coordinator with the elementary school Nick Tweet has been volunteering with the club for a few years. He took over full time management of the club when fellow coordinator Tim Sands went on vacation.

Tweet said chess teaches kids a lot of important skills they will be able to use throughout their lives.

"We feel pretty strongly that chess is good for kids," Tweet said. "Chess is problem solving, responding to what your opponent does and paying attention. It is just the right thing for elementary kids."

Depending on the weather outside and what the sports calendar holds, the club can get more than 30 participants, including middle school and high school students.

Currently the club is mostly elementary school kids, which has its own set of challenges.

"It is hard for them to see more than one move ahead," Tweet said. "They also have an idea of what they want to do and don't always pay attention to what their opponent is doing."

Benjamin Franklin in his article the Morals of Chess said that by playing at chess we learn foresight, circumspection and caution.

Tim Sands, couldn't agree more. He has been working with chess clubs for over 15 years dating back to when he was living in Juneau.

Sands has been the backbone for the Dillingham club. Along with purchasing all the equipment for the club, Sands has gotten it registered with the chess federation which means the club can compete in tournaments.

Sands believes that the game is a powerful way to help kids develop their minds.

"Kids like games and it is a thinking game," Sands said. "Studies definitely show that chess really helps with and linear thinking and those things are good skills to have in life.

While Sands wouldn't describe himself as a chess expert, he is definitely an aficionado.

"I am not great at chess by any stretch of the imagination, but I like the game, think it is a really good thing for the kids and I like sharing it with other kids," he said.

Elementary school teacher John Eller helps volunteer with the club and has been impressed with the level of the student's play.

"I have been helping out all year," Eller says. "I learned chess about 20 years ago but haven't played in 18."

"It helps to have an extra adult around who know a little bit, even though some of these kids are better than me," Eller jokes. "Don't tell anyone I said that."

The Dillingham School chess club meets every Wednesday afternoon and anyone in the community is welcome to come, volunteer or play a game or two.


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