MT. VERNON — Neal Evilsizer has tried for three years to start a chess team at Webber Township High School. This year, he succeeded and said his goal is the team will make it to the state finals in February.
“Honestly, I think having this [club] the last couple of years has helped with the chess stigma,” he said. “It’s good for the kids too because there are not a lot of after school programs for them to do.”
The chess club is made up of students from all grades and Evilsizer said his more experienced students are teaching new members how chess is played. He hopes he can entice students to join the team, but said the club is a good chance for students to learn critical thinking skills and also have some fun.
“Not everyone will want to be on the team, but they are more than welcome to play in the club,” Evilsizer said. “The best thing about chess, it doesn’t matter if you’re physically fit. Anyone can play and it helps with concentration.”
Evilsizer has been working hard to find other chess teams to compete against, but said he is having some difficulty. He has called 19 different schools, from Salem to Carbondale to Harrisburg, but there are only three other schools in the Southern Illinois area with a chess team.
He would like for his team to get as much practice as possible before they try to compete at the state competition, so he is still looking for schools to compete against.
The team is also completely self-sustaining, Evilsizer said. He and his students are in charge of raising the money they need for chess boards, clocks, team shirts and transportation costs. He said the students are working on fundraisers and are also looking for individual sponsors.
Junior Jakob Felty has been teaching some of the new members how to play chess since he was part of the club last year.
“I can’t go a day without playing chess,” he said. “I like everything about the game. It makes you think about stuff so it’s a way to improve critical thinking skills.”
Felty has been inviting friends to join the club as well.
“I think everyone should know how to play chess,” he said. “Anybody can play chess. Anybody can be good at chess.”
Jessica Cramer, a junior, was part of the chess club last year. She joined the team after taking a class with Evilsizer, who taught the students how to play chess.
“I really liked it,” she said. “I like chess club because a lot of my friends are in it. It’s really fun. It’s not boring like a lot of people think it is and it’s not hard to learn.”
Cramer said she plans on being part of the team this year as well as participating in chess club.
Her teammate, Heather Riley, a senior, was also part of the chess club last year. She said she is going to try to be on the team, but she also plays volleyball, basketball and runs on the track team, so she does not think she will have the time. She also learned how to play chess in the class Evilsizer taught.
“It just challenges you,” she said. “It’s kind of a challenge to your mind. Chess isn’t just a game ‘geeks’ play. It’s a lot more than that.”
Riley said she plays chess at home, mostly on the computer because her family doesn’t play. She said she is working on convincing her friends to join the team.
The chess club meets after school each Monday and Thursday.
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