"He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life." (Muhammad Ali)
Students start early at Washington Elementary School. Children arrive sleepily on the school bus. Some families drive their children to school, dropping off siblings at high school or middle school. Some kids arrive early enough to have school breakfast or visit the library/computer lab. Students pile into the gym before their teachers arrive. Starting a checkers/chess tournament this year was a well-rewarded risk that has pumped new life and energy into those minutes before school starts.
There are no guarantees, no magic spells and no automatic techniques that ignite every student every time. Video games are probably the closest thing to a universal spell-binder, and computers are often utilized as rewards, manipulatives or educational extensions. So, low-tech checkers and chess have become an unexpected hit among the young Eagles at Washington Elementary.
"There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together." (Harriet Ann Jacobs, abolitionist)
There is a type of courage that brings you to a game of checkers that only grows as you continue to play. There is a pride in a child's eye when they are invited to graduate to chess. There is a stretch that happens in the spine and the neck when someone wants to get a better look at a match in action. We have been swept up in an enthusiasm for the oldest of games. It all started with a couple of Goodwill chess sets, a mix of checkers and Connect Four chips and some clear packing tape to reunite the long separated checkerboards.
Do you know how much a chess timer costs? They're free, actually: Any cellphone can download a free chess timer. And now, we have dozens of checkers kids vying for the eight spots in the chess tournament. The chess kids, ranging in age from third to fifth grade, competed in a coed, double-elimination bracket. Bitten lips and shaky fingers hover over a sacrificed pawn, an unexpected fork, a daring check. Without bells and whistles, a game of kings is a good way to prove yourself, and possibly make a friend.
Volunteering at my son's elementary school has been an opportunity for me as well. Knowing my kids can face a challenge, make friends and grow up feeling supported and safe is important. Teachers, administrators and staff need parents and volunteers to help create opportunities, ease the workload and extend the reach of education. Helping to reshelve books, donating hardcover books and helping with the sack races at Field Day are simple ways that support the kids and schools, simple ways to join in the fun. Visit a local school, sign up to be a volunteer, join a SMART readers program or donate a sturdy, complete board game to an after school program. It has inspired me to see the excitement in our youth.
"I could never do just one thing, especially if I have the opportunity to do more." (Shaquille O'Neal)
Maybe it's a change in the weather, maybe it's African American History Month, or maybe it's a really good article in the Woodburn Independent. I hope that you find your inspiration to make a difference, take a risk, do more and be courageous. It's good to know that a community like Woodburn is ready to join with you, meet you halfway, and if you're not on your toes, you might just get stomped in a game of chess by a fourth-grader. The last thing hasn't happened to me yet, but it has been really close.
Breaking news: The Woodburn Public Library has organized an Open Chess Tournament on March 11 as part of March Madness. Come ready to play Isidro or Josue. You'll be impressed.
David LaDuca teaches English at Chemeketa Community College, volunteers in the Woodburn School District and enthusiastically endorses the Woodburn Independent where his two sons are paper carriers. His eldest son has joined a high school chess club at Woodburn High School.