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Area students bring chess to life at school
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Laura Steere, Patrick Henry Elementary School chess club advisor, reads aloud moves for human chess pieces at the Patrick Henry human chess game. Steere directed the first human chess game last year at Albert Harris Elementary School where she is the school nurse and chess club advisor. (Contributed photo)

Monday, February 25, 2013

By KIM BUCK - Special to the Bulletin

The Patrick Henry Elementary School gymnasium echoed recently with the cheers of hundreds of students rooting for their teams. The players, clad in blue or white shirts, took their places on the court and prepared to face off.

No, it wasn’t a pep rally or a basketball game — it was a human chess match.

Thirty-two fourth- and fifth-grade students demonstrated how chess is played in a life-size game, using themselves as the game pieces.

Chess team coach Laura Steere, dressed as a medieval queen, called out the movements and directed the players around the large checkered board. Students wore headpieces to denote whether they were kings, queens, rooks, bishops, knights or pawns.

Steere explained to the audience the roles of the pieces and how they are allowed to move. The game is a battle between two sides trying to capture each other’s soldiers and ultimately corner the king in what is called “checkmate,” or a position from which no escape is possible.

The king may be the most important game piece, she said, but the queen is the most powerful — she is the only piece with the ability to move freely in any direction.

“It’s just great fun. The kids were so excited to participate,” she said. “This is a game that has been around for 1,000 years. It teaches the kids to think ahead and plan out their strategy.”

Also important, “it teaches them to win gracefully and to not win gracefully,” Steere said. Part of the demonstration was to teach good sportsmanship. When the blue team won by checkmating White King James Li, the two teams finished by bowing to each other to show mutual respect.

Steere organized the school division’s first human chess game last year at Albert Harris Elementary, where she is the school nurse and coaches the school’s chess team. Both elementary schools began the clubs last year, admitting 12 fifth-graders each.

This year, Steere also took on the Patrick Henry club and is preparing the teams to face off in a tournament this spring. “I’m the queen of two countries now,” she quipped.

“The game last year got everyone really excited,” Steere said, adding that it was a great recruiting tool for the team. This year, more than 24 students applied for the 12 available spots at Albert Harris.

Joining the team is an incentive for good behavior and grades, she said. Students do not need to have any chess experience, but they must have a teacher recommendation.

Kim Buck is the community outreach and grants coordinator for Martinsville City Schools.


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