Texas Kiwanians teach chess to kids who learn strategy along with some important life lessons.
Story and photos by Curtis Billue
As the chess board is being set, the students bristle with excitement. “Can anyone solve this puzzle?” asks Kiwanian Duane Solley. “Two moves for checkmate.”
Hands and voices raise with possible answers. After revealing the answer (it’s a “queen’s sacrifice”), the kids learn a lesson on patience. “Look how long it took us to find a two-move checkmate,” Solley says.
Student Isaac Brown can’t wait until next week’s puzzle. During the breakout he asks Solley for another problem.
“It helps with problem-solving,” says Lee Ann Cloud, teacher at Wilder Intermediate school. “The kids have to learn strategies to play the game of chess, just like the game of life.”
The benefits of learning chess vary from better social skills, thinking before acting and learning from mistakes.
“Parents like chess club because it encourages memory and calculation,” Solley says. “Children learn because it is fun.”
Started six years ago by Duane Solley and in coordination with JoAnna Wold, community and schools social worker at Rose Garden Elementary, the weekly chess club has taken off at both Rose Garden and Wilder Intermediate schools in Schertz, Texas.
“He offered to volunteer here at Rose Garden once a week his entire life,” jokes Wold, “and he’s very dedicated to teaching children who have no knowledge of chess.”
The kids seem to love the program and the recognition. Twice a year, the Kiwanis Club of San Antonio Army Residence Community Golden K visits with chess T-shirts and awards for the students.
“The students appreciate them coming; they get excited when they see their gold vests,” says Wold. “It’s been a wonderful partnership, and we look forward to it all the time.”
Student Alex Simon knows that playing more makes a difference.
“Practice makes perfect. You’re not going to be the best chess player after one game,” he says.
Student Wyatt Cravey says he learned a life lesson from chess.
“I’ve learned not to rush my school work,” he says.
For some kids, playing chess gives them a goal. Layton Keller likes learning how to use the pieces, in hopes that he “can defeat my brother, who usually wins.” And Isaiah Jenkins hopes to beat his dad. “He said he’d buy me a chess board if I beat him,” Jenkins says.
Emotions during a game range from intense concentration to expressive surprise. Some are lopsided wins, with most of a player’s pieces being captured.
However, Kainen Cuello puts it in perspective.
“If you lose or win, you always learn your lesson, and you get better,” Cuello says, adding that everyone makes mistakes.
As the games wrap up, each student shows a gesture of sportsmanship, shaking hands with their opponent. It’s the same way they started the match.
When asked about how to deal with defeat, Calleigh Keiser says it’s more about having fun and making friends:
“I just say, ‘Great game,’ and I’m OK with it.”
Presley Durden agrees:
“If you lose, it’s still fun because you played the game.”
This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.