Chess is becoming the game of choice for a growing number of students at Hillsboro High

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The library has become the place of choice for a growing number of students at Hillsboro High School, thanks to a recent explosion of interest in the game of chess.

On any given school day, you can find a broad mix of students gathering in the Wiebe Media Center to play the mentally challenging game before school, after school and during lunch breaks.

What started as one game among a few friends has evolved into a 32-person fall tournament-with every opening filled.

On the average day, it’s not uncommon to see several dozen students either playing or huddling to watch games on the 10 or so boards that frequently are in use at once.

“It’s fantastic,” said media specialist Anita Boese, who said she doesn’t mind at all that the library has become a hot spot to play a board game rather than for the more traditional pursuits of research and study.

“It’s where they have to use strategy-and it’s a thinking game,” she said of chess. “I see no harm at all in it.”

Boese said she likes the interaction she sees within a broad spectrum of students who have become involved.

“It’s not only about thinking, it’s about socializing also,” Boese said. “I like seeing them play chess rather than a computer game because it has that human element rather than just the technology.”

The craze began a couple of weeks ago with a casual conversation between staff aide Janet Whisenhunt and sophomore Ben Bosworth. Whisenhunt said she was interested in finding quiet activities that students could enjoy in the library.

“The librarian asked if I liked to play chess, and I told her I had some experience at it,” said Bosworth. “It kind of went from there.”

Whisenhunt invited Bosworth to get a game going with some friends. When other students became interested, Bosworth created a small tournament bracket at Whisenhunt’s suggestion.

But student interest kept growing. Science teacher and coach Scott O’Hare was enlisted to create a more complicated 32-person bracket that technology teacher Matt Carroll printed out as a large chart that now hangs on the library wall.

It didn’t take long for the entire bracket to fill with a diversity of students.

“I think all the classes are represented and we had one girl who signed up,” Whisenhunt said.

To make the tournament as fair as possible, students were asked to give themselves a rating of 1 through 10, according to their experience, and then were seeded accordingly.

“So far that seems to have been pretty right-on as far as ability,” Whisenhunt said.

Games are being played whenever the two opponents can agree on a mutually workable time.

In addition to the matches in the library, students have been playing online. Library staff have gathered and distributed Web addresses where students can sign up to participate.

“Some kids even asked last week if they could take a chess set to their classroom because the computers were down one day,” Whisenhunt said. “The teacher said yes, so the teachers are allowing them to play in their classrooms.

“We had several teachers say they’d be interested in participating in the next tournament against the students,” she added. “That’s been wonderful.”

Bosworth, meanwhile, said he has been more than a little surprised how the game has caught on.

“I didn’t think as many kids would sign up as they did,” said Bosworth, who started playing the game with his father some seven years ago. “It’s cool.”

Whisenhunt said she and Boese have been looking for ways to make the library a more desirable place for students to hang out. An experiment to play classical music as background seems to be well received by students. Puzzles may be next.

“It’s been great to have the students in here,” Boese said.

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