Chess is a game of strategy, tactics and careful calculations – something that the students at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Dagsboro know very well. Next month, the team – composed of more than a dozen elementary- and middle-school students – will head back to Owings Mills, Md., for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) Chess Tournament, to put their minds to the test in hopes of improving on last year’s solid performance.
While all of the students on the team have been practicing together, once a week after school, they will be divided into an elementary- and middle-school team divisions during their competition.
Last year, the middle-school team returned with the second-place trophy, as players including Jake Czapp and brothers Anthony and Nathaniel Richter strung together several wins apiece. But Carlisle Christian Academy got the best of them, with a first-place finish.
The elementary-school team from Lighthouse Christian fell just shy of third place in 2011, but they hope to make some improvements for next month’s competition.
Being part of the chess team has given the students something to look forward to after the school day is over, but as the team’s head coach, Hal Wallach, explained, there’s a lot more to it than that.
“It teaches these kids a variety of skills,” he said. “They come into class and review the values of pieces, and we may spend some time discussing opening principles. Pawns, for example, are typically considered to be weak pieces, but the students have learned that the structure of pawns can have an influence on how the game develops. There’s a lot of problem-solving involved with chess.”
And Wallach is teaching them how to solve those problems. The students analyze specific scenarios. Upon examination of a chessboard in mid-game, they determine which player holds the advantage. Worksheets with strategic tips and hypothetical game situations keep the students’ minds sharp.
“There is a lot of logic that comes along with chess,” Wallach added. “During competition, and sometimes at practice, the students use clocks. It adds to the pressure of the game and teaches them patience, a virtue for people of any age. They keep notation of their play and, by doing that, they can improve and add to their strategy the next time.”
Last year’s runner-up finish for the middle-school team was the first time that a Lighthouse Christian team returned home with a trophy, and assistant coach Bob Kichline hopes to add to it.
“We’re looking for improvement,” he said. “Earning that trophy really got the kids excited, and, hopefully, we can build from there. Our numbers have picked up this year. Last year, we had 10 or 11 kids, and now we’re around 16. I think some of the younger kids saw how much fun the team had, and we’ve got some really good elementary-school players that we want to help the team.”
The Lighthouse Christian Academy also has three girls on the team, an improvement on last season’s numbers, as well.
“We’re in a little bit of a rebuilding phase,” acknowledged Wallach. “We had some talented kids move up after last school year, into high school, but we’ve got a great mixture of returning veterans and skillful newcomers, so, hopefully, we can earn some more trophies.”
The Owings Mills tournament, part of ACSI’s Northeast Regional events, is set for Friday, March 9, and will see teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, though, for the past several years, Lighthouse Christian has been the only Delaware school to produce teams.
“It’s exciting to not only represent our school, but the entire state,” said Wallach. “We’ll see if there are any others from Delaware this year.”