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Mount Vernon Chess Club offers a lifetime of enjoyment

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By Corey Woolsey

For many students, the afterschool activities include the multitude of athletic offerings the school provides.

But for a group of students across the Mount Vernon School System, another activity provides a mental challenge, along with social interaction and fun.

The Mount Vernon Chess Club, offered by Doug Hamm, has seen many incarnations over the years, but has always provided students with a great opportunity to learn.

Hamm initially introduced the club in 1986 through 1993. He then took a few years off and again ran the club from 1997-2005.

After another break from it, Hamm said that the last four years Farmersville and Marrs have each had a team.

Hamm said that the program was important to him for a couple reasons.

“I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to play a game they could play for the rest of their lives,” said Hamm. “I also wanted to give them the opportunity to compete. One year at West, we had 110 kids playing. We filled the gym floor. It was great.”

Now at Marrs, Hamm has 45 players and he also has 45 across West, Farmersville, the junior high and the high school. And the Mount Vernon teams are highly competitive.

“Marrs won a state title in the third grade and under class in its first year,” said Hamm. “These kids had never seen chess boards or pieces before. I was amazed at the intelligence of the kids and the support of the parents. I was overwhelmed.”

Since the state title, Marrs has placed in the top five every year in third and under and sixth and under.

And last year, the high school team was 11th in the state in its first year with an all-freshman team.

Hamm’s most successful player comes from Farmersville though.

“Carson Tucker is a fifth grader at Farmersville and is the top player I have ever coached,” said Hamm. “He finished second at Nationals last year.”

Hamm said the most competitive teams are around Carmel, Fort Wayne and Hammond.

“Year after year we are right there with them,” said Hamm.

Even though chess is just a game, Hamm said that the players take away important life skills from the game.

“In life, you have good times and bad, wins and losses. What I find is that the kids who pour themselves into chess have quite a good deal of pain when they lose, and I hurt for them,” said Hamm. “Even though it can’t be measured, there is a direct correlation between that type of pain and the pains later on in life. The kids are able to move through the pain and to move forward in life.”

Hamm added that he thinks the kids likely learn more in defeat than with their wins.

Students are invited to participate in the chess club based on several criteria.

They must be near the top academically and behaviorally, have a high mathematical competence and after meeting these criteria, must be recommended by a teacher.

Hamm holds practice for the Marrs team after school on Tuesday and Thursday until 4:30 p.m. and at the Junior High cafeteria on Monday and Wednesday until 4:30 p.m. for West, Farmersville, Junior High and High School students.

There are around 10 Saturdays during the year for tournaments.

Hamm said the kids have a blast learning the game during practice.

“It is a lot more social than you would think. They talk a lot back and forth, “ said Hamm. “We learn by playing various games, watching videos, playing a two on two game called Bughouse, a five-minute game called Blitz and even lightning rounds with one-minute games. There are also times when I don’t let them make a move for three minutes so it takes an hour and a half to get through a game.”

Hamm said that the club has four in-club tournaments a year as well to help determine individual strengths and decide which teams will compete in the second semester tournaments.

Mount Vernon will host the Individual Regional on Jan. 9 and the Team Regional on Feb. 13.

The State Tournament will be held in Hammond on the first Saturday in March.

Hamm said that the success is due to the work of the kids.

“I am blessed to be a part of this school system,” said Hamm. “And I am blessed to have the kids I have and the support of their parents.”