It was early on the morning of April 9, 2013, and the GCMS chess team and several parents had gathered at the Dry Ridge Firehouse, awaiting their triumphant ride to the Grant County Middle School on the fire trucks. The celebration was in honor of the national ranking earned by not one, but both of the GCMS chess teams at the Chess SuperNationals held the preceding weekend, April 5 -7.
Introductions were made, and the sponsors, Mrs. Kay, Mrs. Allison, Mrs. Marianne gushed with pride as they shared a quick review of their teams’ successes. Just before boarding the firetrucks, Coach Seth Fulk addressed the team. The respect he had from the team and the parents was quite obvious as all eyes and ears were immediately on him. As he began to speak it became apparent that Coach Fulk was using even this time of celebration as a teachable moment for his team. He spoke of the pride each student could and should feel, and he reminded them to express their appreciation to the fire department. Most importantly, he reminded each child of whom they were representing: themselves, their parents, their team, their school, and their community – and outlined the expectations for doing that with class. And, the kids proceeded to do just that.
This is but a small snapshot of a five-year journey that has culminated with a national ranking by our middle school teams. Started by Mrs. Kay Hughett, Family Resource Director at Crittenden-Mt. Zion School, with just six players and her newly recruited volunteer coach, Seth Fulk, the program has grown to now include 60+ students from CMZ, Dry Ridge Elementary, and Grant County Middle School. Obviously, with a program this size, other adults have joined to assist, but it is Ms. Kay (aka “The Chess Queen Mum”) and Coach Fulk who have provided the glue throughout the years – and who can barely contain their emotions when they share of the strides their team has made.
Parents, too, are a little amazed at their children. Some, who typically don’t sit still, will play an intense game of chess for 3 hours. Some are quiet and shy, but can meet a child from a different country across the chess board and chat the rest of the afternoon with her about the game and more. Others, who are not interested in sports, have found a number of similar virtues as a member of the chess team – such as learning to support, respect, and encourage one another and their opponents, or learning to win or lose with sportsmanship and class.
The journey to this national ranking has included lots and lots of practice, lots of fund-raising by a growing family of enthusiasts, and dozens of tournaments along the way. SuperNationals in Nashville, TN – the biggest rated chess tournament in history -- was by “invitation only” to teams who had already earned a state ranking - and included 1000+ teams, with more than 5300 players. Grant County took 25 students to the event and competed in the K-5, K-6, and K-8 categories. It was fun, and intense, and grueling, and super sweet.
Now their finish is publicized for the world to see:
K-6 Under 1000 (24thplace)
Seth Sutton, Kody Etler, Carter Petrey, Austin Creech, Bradley Perkins, Cole Fulk
K-8 Under 1000 (23rdplace)
Dylan Strong, Megan Goerler, Koy Gorman, Nathan Reeves
But, it’s not just about chess. 100% of the players show an increase in their academic assessment scores. Coach Fulk explains, “Chess is a three dimensional game. It requires that a player think about the past, present, and future at all times. Students learn how to focus and develop a sense, a mental switch, which allows them to more thoroughly engage in the task at hand, whether it is chess or an academic challenge.”
For Mrs. Kay, tears form in her eyes when she thinks of the various students who have been reached by chess. Yes, some are stellar students with lots of resources and support. “But for some,” she says, “and I see my own childhood in these students, it’s a time when they can focus on something that at least momentarily takes them away from problems or sadness at home. For others, it’s one of the first times they have experienced acceptance….. or success.”
Parent, Laura Isaacs, enthusiastically sums it up when addressing the resource chess has been for the student who struggles in the classroom. “Our school system has thought outside the box, taken a “new road” to work with kids that have difficulties in the classroom…. by creating a main-stream, highly intellectual program that works well for them. Now, look how much of a positive impact we have made on their lives. They have risen above the rest to be named one of the top 25 teams in the nation. Wow, Grant County is in the top 25 in the nation! That alone should turn some heads and say something. Our kids can make the cut when we find the right way to connect with each and every one of them. This program and these kids could put us (Grant County School) on the map. Isn’t that amazing!?”
Ms. Kay has announced that she will retire at the close of this school year. Many have expressed their appreciation for her vision and vigilance in developing the team. For her, though, it was an act of love that she hopes will continue well beyond these years she has given. “We need coaches,” she says as she continues to advocate for her kids. “If you’re out there, know a little something about chess, and want to do something really, really fulfilling, come see me.”