A mightier challenge than Nintendo | VailDaily.com

A mightier challenge than Nintendo

Carolyn Pope
Carolyn Pope/Vail DailyGracie and Anthony MacKenzie learn chess.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Chess is gaining clout among our community’s youth.

Armed with that knowledge, Brenda Kleinfelder of the Youth Foundation began Chess In the Park, a collaborative program supported by The Youth Foundation, Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District, Vail Recreation District, Avon Recreation Center, Eagle Valley Library District, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, RSVP, Heartwood Custom Woodworking, The Paint Bucket, and Home Depot.

On July 12, Bruce Wittrig and Daphne Volle, violinists with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, performed at Chess In the Park at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Music resonated through the gardens as children of several ages engrossed themselves in a few games of chess.

“My interest and advocacy in chess began 15 years ago when my intelligent, high school-aged stepson began experimenting with getting high and started to fail in school,” Kleinfelder said.

“As part of our intervention, my husband spent many hours teaching and playing chess with him. Within a month, he was hooked on chess and went on to win the state of Washington scholastic chess tournament two years in a row, and spent time at the prestigious Manhattan Chess Club studying under international grand masters.

“As a result, his grades soared and earned him scholarships to several universities,” she said. “The moral to the story is: You can’t get high and win at chess.”

The intellectual and academic benefits of chess go on and on, but what really matters is that kids love the competitive nature and strategy of the game.

The Chess In the Park summer program is designed to give kids and the greater community a chance to learn chess or improve their game during the lunch hour in a relaxing outdoor environment ” the local park.

Six chessboards, pieces, two chess clocks, score sheets, and the rules of chess are placed in a shady area of local parks. Seating and chess tables are created with a wooden plank and two paint buckets. Players straddle the planks with the board in between them.

The casual chess set-up is common in garages, barns, on urban street corners, and on commercial fishing boats, or where ever people gather for a quick game of chess.

George McCollum is the chess ranger. McCollum retired from teaching math at Eagle Valley High School after being on staff there since 1968.

He sets up tables and boards, monitors equipment, teaches the rules, and plays experienced players.

His love of chess and consistency is drawing a young following across the valley.

He also keeps a record of daily players. He reports that the weather determines numbers ” two or three players on “drizzle days”, and 15 to 20 with a waiting list on “blue-sky days”.

The chess players are boys and girls and are typically between 10 to 13 years old. About 10 percent are visitors “from all over the world,” McCollum says.

As the summer chess program ends, The Youth Foundation and the valley recreation districts hope to continue with an after-school chess program.

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