What started 15 years ago as a few students sharing a like interest has turned into a major organization at Ida Freeman Elementary School.
The “Blue Horde,” as the students were named by coaches from other schools, wear their blue team colors with pride as more than 60 players regularly attend meets.
With a membership of 107 players, including second- through fifth-grade students, coach David Nichols took 67 Chess Club members to the Oklahoma State Chess Championships at Carl Albert High School recently.
The team won state championship titles in third-, fourth- and fifth-grade sections representing the 16th, 17th and 18th state championships won by Ida Freeman chess players since the club’s inception in 1997.
Three Ida Freeman players also won individual honors: Jackson Houston, a second-grader, Kaden Dunbar, a third-grader, and Noah Grustad, a fourth-grader, each took second-place statewide in their respective grades and 18 students were medalists scoring three out of five possible points.
The chess team from Edmond North High School claimed the State Championship in the 11th-12th grade section. All four members of the North team — Jonathan Kennedy, Bradley Rose, Marcus Ford and Cody Tucker — are Ida Freeman chess alums. Kennedy, a senior at North, won the individual championship in that section.
“I didn’t realize North’s winning team members all attended Ida Freeman until I saw a photo,” Nichols said.
“I must tell you that David does not just teach his students the game of chess,” said Anna Kennedy, the mother of Jonathan Kennedy. “The program is a privilege for the students. They must make certain grades and have good behavior. Through chess my children learned how to work for something they really wanted. They learned to be good winners and losers and in the process learned how to be well-behaved and polite. To this day they all still play the game and will never forget the valuable lessons they learned from Mr. Nichols.”
Most students play chess because it is fun, but some play for other reasons.
Fifth-grader Noah Grustad said, “Playing chess is fun, and it is all about focus.”
The youngest winner, second-grader Jackson, said his sister Nadia used to play chess at Ida Freeman and that is how he got interested.
Kaden, a third-grade student said he and his cousin Kai play chess together at home and at school.
Students from a variety of levels, including gifted, emotionally disturbed, learning disabled and students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are in the program.
“Chess is a great leveling agent,” Nichols said. “Kids who have struggled in school can find themselves excelling.”
Whether learning concentration, logical reasoning, critical thinking skills, commitment, decision making or just hanging out with a group of other students with similar interests, the students enjoy being winners.
Nichols said not only does chess help the students in their classrooms, but there is a feeling of team spirit and commitment as they work to become the latest in the long line of champions at Ida Freeman.
Former students come back to attend the chess club’s meetings, now held once a week after school, as mentors and assistant coaches.
As to the success of chess at Ida Freeman, Nichols said, “I think chess is part of the school culture now that it has been around for 15 years. There is enough history and momentum behind it, and everybody wants to be part of a winning group.”
Besides, winning or not, as Noah said, “It’s just fun.”
The tournament was sponsored and sanctioned by the Oklahoma Scholastic Chess Organization. For more information about OSCO go to www.okschess.org.
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