The past decade, Doug Koerner has run a chess club at Miami Middle School.
Often, he said, participants are new to the game and just looking for something different to do after school. But sometimes the players are pretty good.
“I have some kids (this year) who can beat me,” said Koerner, a 42-year-old language arts teacher who has been playing chess since he was 10 years old.
“That was a new twist I wasn’t expecting.”
He and social studies teacher Thor Whitlock organized a first-of-its-kind round-robin tournament Saturday at Memorial Park Middle School that featured about 50 participants from five Fort Wayne middle schools. Players packed the school’s cafeteria and paired up to compete.
Each participant played five games, each against a different opponent.
Whitlock teaches at Memorial Park and worked with Koerner on the chess club when they both were at Miami. When Whitlock moved to Memorial Park, chess competitions for students at both schools were organized.
“The other schools found out we were playing each other, and they wanted in,” Whitlock said.
Chess proponents say the game can be valuable as an educational tool. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis says on its website chess “teaches students important developmental skills like planning, goal setting, spatial awareness, sportsmanship, critical thinking and more, all through a fun and engaging game.”
Lucas Seng, 13, an eighth-grader at Memorial Park, would agree. He said he learned to play in fourth grade and joined his school’s club last year.
“I find that chess challenges me mentally,” Seng said. “I think it strengthens my mind, it helps me with decision-making.”
Aung Oo, 12, started playing this year at Miami. He said a friend introduced him to chess.
“I thought it would be an interesting game,” Oo said after battling his first opponent to a draw. “It is.”
Whitlock said he has “a vision” of chess competitions growing to weekly events among students at each Fort Wayne Community Schools middle school.
Saturday’s tournament was a good start.