The clacking of captured queens, rooks and bishops filled the Central Middle School lunchroom on Saturday, April 23, a rhythm interrupted by checkmates, pizza and dodgeball. The occasion was the Southwestern Metro Chess Championship, which brought together more than 100 young chess enthusiasts from 60 metro area schools to test their skills and have fun.
The tournament consisted of three divisions — kindergartners and first graders, second and third graders, and fourth and fifth graders — with the players competing for individual and team prizes. But the day was about more than the chess competition.
“I like that we focus on the experience as much as the wins,” said Chet Gunhus, the tournament organizer. Gunhus is the national director of the Youth Enrichment League, an organization with a mission “to engage youth to think, learn, and play well.”
With that in mind, there was pizza for lunch, a jovial atmosphere, and a gym for the kids to expend their energy. The gym was the site of a couple of the day’s highlights — two games of dodgeball pitting kids and parents. The games were filled with action, laughter and shouts of joy. The parents were declared the winners of both games, and Gunhus jokingly encouraged the parents to remind their children of that.
But the focus was soon back on the kids as the tournament’s sixth and final round began. Pawns, knights and bishops vied for position as the competitors looked to end their tournament with a win. Some players sat, some stood, while others hunched over the chess boards with one foot perched on the seat.
When the round was finished, kids, parents and tournament staff gathered in the lunchroom for the award ceremony. Jack Wilkinson of Minnewashta Elementary in Excelsior took the top prize in the K-1 division, while Weston Fanska of Oak Hills Elementary in Lakeville won the 4-5 division. Avyukth Sandaraj of Apple Valley’s Cedar Park Elementary won the 2-3 division, the only tournament entrant — of 136 — to win all six games.
In the team competition, there was some drama, as Lakeville’s All Saints Catholic School came from second place to claim the title in the final round.
“This was a tougher tournament than last week,” All Saints’ Head Coach Peter Schoen said. “The kids all did great. I’m so proud of them.”
Schoen said his school recently re-started its chess club after a two-year break brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. He praised his team’s preparation as he talked about their work on chess fundamentals, such as common ways to checkmate an opponent.
The chess boards and pieces were then packed away, joining the dodgeballs in slumber until their next tournament call. The chances are good that the kids will be ready to answer that call, too.
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