My father taught me how to play chess when I was eight years old. He taught me how to play cribbage as well, but that is another story. Those hours spent with the two of us in a friendly competition over a game we both enjoyed are treasured memories of a loving father who always had time to spend with me. I loved chess as a kid and by the time I was 11 was able to beat my Dad pretty regularly. But in the days before the internet, finding other people to play was a problem.

Shortly after I started teaching I began a chess club at my school which grew into a county-wide tournament by the time we were amalgamated into the larger Thames Valley District. We then became part of the London Regional Chess Tournament, which at its peak attracted over 1,000 students to a venue at the Western Fair for an all-day competition. By then I was teaching at Locke’s Public School and some of my students – Cassidy Proctor, Andy and Peter Buczkowski, for example – were stiff competition at the Regional Tournament.

I started another chess club in Malaysia when I taught there, but as the students were only at the school for a year, it was hard to get any consistency and tournaments in that country were non-existent. For all their problems, tournaments provide motivation and develop student involvement. It is hard to keep a chess club going without them.

Coming to Cayman I was determined to do better, but I ran into the usual wall of “if it don’t bounce, it don’t count” mentality that often drives programs at elementary and secondary schools. It is hard to get attention for non-sport activities such as drama, art and debate at this level. I asked admin for money to buy chess boards, but was told it had been tried before and the answer was no. I bought them anyway – 12 tournament quality boards shipped in at my own expense – and started with the help of Gini Gaylon who saw chess as a way to motivate some of her special needs children.

This year I was able to bring on board another two colleagues, Shaun Schaller and Krista Finch, who each started their own chess groups at the school. With the help of the Cayman Islands Chess Club and some other local teachers, I started planning for the first Interschool Chess Tournament. I was greatly encouraged and helped by Glenda McTaggart of Dart/Minds Inspired, who sponsored the medals and awards. Last week 120 students from eight island schools came to CIS to play in age categories from 7 to 17 in three divisions, resulting in three gold medal winners awarded by a representative from the Ministry of Education.

There was a wonderful air of excitement and joy as the tournament began which gave way to an intense concentration as students worked their way through the qualifying round to the medal round. Although there were a few glitches, for the most part the tournament ran very well, far better than many expected. I got a lot of positive feedback from parents and colleagues.

The tournament would not have been possible without the cheerful and supremely competent group of seniors this year at CIS who helped with registration and scoring. There may only have been 16 of them handling 120 kids, but they were well up to the task and problem solved their way through to the end.

Chess is a wonderful social leveler that cheerfully ignores language, size, physical strength, gender, ethnicity, and economic status. It requires no team spirit or school support. The high school champion, Edmund P. was the only representative of his school to attend, but that didn’t slow him down. Ryan H. of our school, who won the middle school gold, was virtually unknown at the school and now he is seen as a winner.

Hopefully this tournament will now become an annual event that will help to provide some balance to the sports-related activities that excludes so many students. If chess can help to give these often marginalized kids some badly needed recognition, it is well worth all the effort.