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Story of a Club's 1st Year



Starting A Chess Club At School,
How A Parent Who Barely Played Chess Did It

Why did we do it?

My son enjoyed his K-4 elementary school chess club and won the overall school championship in the 3rd and 4th grades. He was really looking forward to playing the chess club champions from the other two K-4 public schools in town at the upper elementary chess club. Then, early in the summer break, we learned the bad news. The upper elementary school had no chess club for the 650 fifth and sixth graders in our town to experience the benefits of chess. I spoke with the school principal and learned of all the budget cuts, expanded teacher responsibilities, much larger class sizes, loss of nearly all custodial staff, program cuts of nearly everything beyond the basics, etc. The possibility of the school starting a new chess club sounded bleak.

Afterward I wondered, "could a parent with no expertise in chess start a chess club at an upper elementary school???" After all, I'm barely a good match for my 10 year old son! As it turns out, there were some helpful web sites indicating, this is indeed possible! But, how? A couple of the sites even provided general descriptions of the process of starting a scholastic chess club. However, none gave a good detailed blow-by-blow description of the process with actual requirements, all the necessary documents and materials to pull it off. I needed a scholastic chess club start-up do-it-yourself kit for dummies. But, none existed. This was starting to look a bit difficult. (don't worry, it's going to be a lot easier for you)

It was hard to put the idea of starting a chess club aside, in spite of my ignorance on the subject. After all, my son and a lot of other kids stood to benefit a lot from the effort. Fortunately, I had some experience with an attempt to start a service club at the high school, which unfortunately died from inadequate student interest. It seemed that several of the lessons learned from the process used in that effort could be applied to the formation of a chess club at the upper elementary. Maybe there would be enough interest among the kids to succeed this time. After all, there will be about 10% in the school that were in their elementary school chess club. After considerable pondering, the idea kept sounding better and better. (actually, most of the kids in the new club weren't in one before)

When did the process begin?

It was still only mid way through summer break. So, I decided to pursue the idea further. The first step was to see what the school Principal thought of a parent organizing a chess club in his school. Fortunately, he was very positive about the (still somewhat vague) proposal. Since the two grades have lunch / recess at different times, the chess club would have to be an after school program. Also, a faculty sponsor was going to be required to meet the school district requirements. If I was willing to organize this, he offered to recruit a faculty sponsor for this new academic club. However, they were going to have to volunteer their time after school. Hopefully, this would not be a show stopper. Being an incurable optimist, I didn't worry about it. Instead, it was time to figure out how to start a scholastic chess club.

(scholastic chess clubs are best started at school in the first half of the year, but can be started just about anytime elsewhere as a community after-school-program)

Who provided the information?

The USCF (US Chess Federation) was definitely the most helpful source of information about starting a new scholastic chess club. Their web site includes a complete section on Scholastic Chess Resources. The most helpful of these resources was A Guide to Scholastic Chess, which I continue to refer back to often. Also, they'll mail you a USCF chess club affiliation packet by simply requesting one from Club Development at 845-562-8350, ext. 128. This includes a hard copy of A Guide to Scholastic Chess, plus several other very helpful publications. The USCF also has a section for chess beginners, which had some good materials to help me learn more about chess and provide to the beginners in the chess club.

The Rockford, IL Chess Club also has a nice web page about Starting a scholastic chess club. The Ohio Scholastic Chess Association also has a nice page about Starting A Scholastic Chess Program. These and the USCF information helped to understand more about starting a new scholastic chess club. However,

I also wanted to speak to some real live people who had done this before. So, I went to the USCF's on-line National Directory of Scholastic Chess Coordinators and contacted the one from my state. As it turns out, he was not located nearby, and gave me the names of some more closely located scholastic chess club organizers and coaches. For those of you in Oklahoma, this information is available on this website's list of Oklahoma Scholastic Chess Clubs. You can also contact the officers of OSCO for advice. I spoke to several of the nearby scholastic club organizers and learned from each, from a few different perspectives. Now the information was starting to pile up quite nicely (and it's all going to be presented to you in an orderly fashion on this website).

What was the Vision?

Some of the information was starting to point toward a more specific objective than my first vague concept of simply having a club where the kids could play. If you want to achieve a goal, you need a vision of what it will look like when you get there. Then, it's best to clearly share that vision with everyone who can help you achieve it, so that you have a better chance for success and someone to enjoy it with. Here was our vision that ultimately developed for our new scholastic chess club:

  • Provide a regularly scheduled opportunity for the kids to play chess in a positive environment 
    (a weekly after school program in the school cafeteria for us)
  • Teach social skills through good sportsmanship, including conflict resolution through rules and official rulings
    (just like laws and courts or arbitration)
  • Facilitate development of the members' chess skills 
    (you don't need to be an expert to facilitate)
  • Prepare for interscholastic chess tournament competition as a team 
    (just like athletics, but for the mind)
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN!
    (because that's really why the kids want to do this)

How did we do it (plan and budget)?

There were still a lot of details to sort out and materials to prepare. Remembering one of my favorite sayings, "nobody plans to fail, they just fail to plan", I began to prepare a detailed plan and budget. In the interest of keeping this page a manageable length, these are presented on separate linked pages along with all the supporting documents prepared to execute them. You're welcome to use and modify all of this as you desire to help get your scholastic program going. Be sure to check out the results below before jumping to the plan and budget links.

What were our results?

At our town's central upper elementary school of about 650 fifth and sixth graders, we now have a chess club that started in September with 47 members. Nearly all of them signed up in the first couple of meetings. Only 8 have stopped attending after 6 months. We had a couple of kids arguing about moves the first couple of meetings. However, the kids mastered the rules and rulings approach quickly and are not bashful about putting up their hand for a ruling, just like in a rated tournament. They've done great in their sportsmanship development. Each week, every member's first game a tournament round with assigned opponent, table and color from a pairing chart, with a few tournament clocks, preparing them for official USCF rated tournaments. Then, they play whoever they want for fun, and/or take advantage of frequent training opportunities.

We only had two members go to the first USCF rated interscholastic tournament a few weeks after school began, and they placed 9th and 10th out of 22 in their section. Two months later, we had 10 members sign up for another nearby rated scholastic chess tournament, enough to be there as a school team in the K-6 Under-750 (USCF rating) section. They brought home the 2nd place trophy for the school!!! Some of our team members saw the team shirts of the other schools and came up with a sketch for a shirt of our own, and a parent offered to buy the team shirts! The school-wide PA announcement at school the next day about their achievement had the whole school buzzing.

At the third rated tournament, which was further away, we had a team of eight. They again took home a team second, along with individual 1st, 2nd and 6th place awards!! The fourth rated tournament had 13 team participants who earned a 3rd place trophy for the school.

The scholastic chess year builds up to the Oklahoma State Scholastic Chess Championship Tournament. Our school team had 18 participants, almost half the active chess club members, at this tournament. At the end of the day, they took home a big 2nd place trophy for the school and were on top of the world.

Chess boards now appear at lunch and draw a crowd. There's a lot of excitement at school about this sport for the mind. The kids are looking forward to the next USCF rated tournament. The parents, organizers and school faculty are all proud. The town has even expressed an interest in chess as an after school program to be available at the new community center that's under construction.

As the year has gone along, the Principal and Teachers have commented about some significant improvements in some chess club members, both academically and socially. They have something to be a part of, and proud of, and a lot of good kids as new friends to do it with. Some of them have also become closer to parents or siblings as a result of chess, with obvious positive impact on them and their family. It's really wonderful to see what can happen when you give kids the opportunity to play chess. It looks like the things published about the benefits of scholastic chess are really true!

Caution: chess with kids is contagious!! The club's Faculty Sponsor has gone from learning how the pieces move to holding her own against some of the other beginners and providing rulings. The club's Organizer has been studying the game to be a reasonable match for his son and actually getting enough skill to be dangerous (but not generally to others). He recently got his own USCF membership and had the (very humbling) experience of playing in a tournament (with adults). Several of the parents are now spending more quality time playing with their kids, including chess. THIS IS REALLY GREAT!!!