Parents paced outdoors. The cafeteria buzzed with players bulking up on soda and potato chips between matches. But the gymnasium itself was darkened and hushed.
Last weekend was the 2008-2009 season opener of the Maryland Association of Chess’ scholastic tournaments at Windy Hill Middle School.
The action — such as it was — took place without a sound. Rows upon rows of tables were set with chessboards in anticipation. The tables also held scattered couples of opponents silently flanking the boards.
At the doorway, the proctor and overseer was Beach Elementary School Principal Michael Shisler — that’s “Doctor Shisler” to the whispering coterie of current and former staff and students clustered just beyond the gymnasium door in the brightly lit hallway that serves as a buffer between the hushed gym and chaotic cafeteria.
It’s because “Doctor Shisler made them do it,” that Madeline Metcalfe, a sixth grader, attributes the arrival of chess at Windy Hill Middle School this year. “He gave them a grant,” she said.
“Last year the chess leader moved away,” explained Jazmine Walker, a Windy Hill seventh-grader who, like Metcalfe, graduated from Beach Elementary School with a hankering to keep playing chess at the tournament level.
The lack of a program at her middle school sent her back to Beach Elementary where she continues to hone her skills although opportunities to play at her middle school are now available.
“I’m like the marathon queen of it,” Walker said of the tournaments she has attended since beginning the game in fourth grade.
“We’re chess buddies,” said Metcalfe, draping her arm over Walker’s shoulders.
Like many of the Calvert County students who played in Saturday’s sanctioned tournament, Metcalfe and Walker began their chess careers at Beach Elementary where Shisler uses in-school clubs to offer chess lessons to students in first grade through fifth grade. After-school clubs offer further lessons and strategies while additionally providing practice opportunities.
“Doctor Shisler shows them strategies and practices with them,” said Chris Banks, vice-principal at Beach Elementary. Banks tells the story of the clubs in an excited whisper but frequently interrupts herself to comment on a player checking out with Shisler. “This girl practiced with us last year,” she said of a second-grader. “She was good. This year she’s really, really good.”
The tournament doesn’t necessarily encourage kindergartners, but they are welcomed if they wish to play. But this year’s youngest player is a first-grader, Banks said.
“Last year, as a kindergartner, she tried the tournament. She couldn’t last. But this year she’s holding her own,” Banks said.
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