EDMOND — The ancient game of chess has some young devotees at Edmond's Ida Freeman Elementary School who aren't just mastering a board game. They are learning great life tactics as well.
For 15 years, fifth-grade teacher David Nichols has coached one of the more successful elementary chess clubs in Oklahoma. He has more than 80 students, second through fifth grades, who regularly attend tournaments.
It started in 1997, during a bout of bad weather.
“We had to be inside and decided to break out chess boards,” Nichols recalled. “After that, the interest was there, and we decided to form a club.”
Since then, Ida Freeman and chess success have become almost synonymous as the team makes regular tournament appearances and racks up championships at state tournaments. One was this month at Tulsa University.
“Our team extended its winning streak to 9-0 with a dominating performance at the Tulsa University Tournament,” Nichols said. “We took 57 players who play in two sections, K-4 and K-6. We won team championships in both sections, had the individual champions in both sections and placed 35 medalists.”
The events are sponsored by the Oklahoma Scholastic Chess Organization, and chess participation is usually for the entire school year.
Those involved with the state Scholastic Chess Organization and others believe chess teaches young people teamwork, discipline, sportsmanship and other positive thinking habits, which help with academic prowess.
Nichols agrees. “We are teaching higher-learning skills,” he said.
Students also have to have high standards to participate.
Those wanting to be stay on the team must abide by guidelines.
They must maintain good grades and good behavior. Any violation, and they aren't allowed to take part in a tournament.
The successful program isn't funded by the school district, Nichols said.
“Parents, employers and business owners help us,” he said. “We also have two major fundraisers a year.”
The students are big fans of the club and the intricate board game.
Mayson Anderson, 11, is in her second year with the club. She admits she's competitive, whether it involves traditional sports or chess.
“It's really fun,” she said. “I like to help out the team and hope to be in a club when I go to Sequoyah (Middle School) next year.” Her proficiency in the game keeps improving, and she said she can defeat her parents.
Brandon Townsend, a fourth-grader, is another student who loves the opportunities provided by strategically moving pawns, rooks, knights and the other pieces.
“I like the challenge,” he said. “I also like winning medals.”
The team concept is vital.
“A lot of these kids haven't been on a team before, so this is beneficial to them,” Nichols said.
And chess is an inclusive sport. In most years, the ratio of boys and girls is 50/50, he said. Minority children also are urged to participate.
“We break the stereotype,” he said. “You don't have to be white, male and affluent to participate. We're open here.”
The next big event is at Ida Freeman as the club hosts the Ida Freeman Winter Open on Jan. 19.
“It will be time to defend our own house,” Nichols said.