Students bring chess to life

March 26, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

The chess pieces in play at Albert Harris Elementary School on Friday were a little bigger than usual — and quite a bit more life-like.

That’s because the pieces were students who were taking part in a human chess game.

Two teams, one blue and one white, were arranged on a larger-than-usual chessboard in the school gym. Each team was made up of one king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights and eight pawns.

Laura Steere, who coaches Albert Harris’ chess club and is the school nurse, dressed as a medieval queen and led the chess match by directing the students’ moves to show the audience how the game is played.

Of the 32 students on the chess board, 12 were fifth-grade chess club members. The others were fourth-graders.

The chess club, which is in its first year at the school, includes only fifth-graders.

The purpose of the human chess game was to recruit new members to next year’s chess club by sparking an interest in chess among the students watching, Steere said. Kindergarten through fifth-grade students watched from bleachers as the game played out.

Blue team queen and chess club member Thearia Gunter thought it was “fun to show them (the other students) how to play chess,” she said.

Thearia said she thought that playing chess as a human chess piece was easier than playing against someone with regular pieces on a regular board.

Domineek Richardson, white team king and chess club member, also said the game was easier as a chess piece because you could see possible moves better by being down on the board.

Alaysia Gravley, white team queen and chess club member, likes being a part of the chess club because “you can learn something” new every time the team meets, she said.

But chess “is challenging, and you have to have strategies,” said blue team rook and fifth-grader Jovana Hernandez.

Steere came up with the idea for the human chess game after seeing it done at medieval festivals in New York and also in the “Harry Potter” movies.

She wanted to “make the game come alive to people,” she said.

Chess requires players to plan, focus, strategize and analyze. It has been around for 1,000 years, and “I want to keep it alive,” Steere said, adding that it is important for students to get involved in an activity that doesn’t involve a computer or video games.

“The stigma is that chess is boring, but it’s not,” Steere said.

The basic premise of chess is that there are two kings, each with a queen and army, at battle on the chessboard. The game is over when one king is captured and put into checkmate, according to Steere.

On Friday, the blue team won. When that happened, members of the white team toppled to the ground to show that the game is a battle between armies, and their army was defeated.

Steere said she hopes the students will be able to perform the live chess game at other schools to generate further interest. Albert Harris and Patrick Henry elementary schools are the only two city schools that have chess clubs, she added.

Steere also thanked Joe and Brenda Williams of Martinsville for creating and donating the chess board mat, South Print for donating T-shirts for all the players, her husband, Rick Steere, for coordinating music, and Violet Nelson for assisting with chess club practices.


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