• May 10, 2013
When I last wrote about the Wilson Foundation Academy chess team ( RCSD team wins again ), I called them a dynasty in the making. After the squad’s recent accomplishment, maybe now is the time to consider changing its name from the Wildcats to the Yankees.
Following a perfect 9-0 record in the Upstate New York Interscholastic Chess League, in April the team traveled to Nashville to compete in the Super Nationals V. Over 5300 K-12 students participated from all 50 states. According to the United States Chess Federation, the tournament broke a world record for the largest tournament ever. In the K-8 sections, where Wilson played, there were 760 players, comprising over one hundred school teams.
After three days of intense competition, Wilson finished in sixth place. No Rochester area team has finished that high in a national level chess tournament in at least fifteen years.
Webster Kehoe and Connor Wagner keyed a comeback in the last day’s matches with two wins each, helping to vault the team three positions. Sam Cherin provided the team’s final and key point in a gritty three and a half hour win that guaranteed the team’s top ten ranking.
I asked Ron Lohrman, who has been the UNYIS Commissioner since the 1970s and runs the Rochester Chess Center where the team regularly attends lessons and competes in tournaments, to assess the team’s abilities. In his long tenure, Lohrman has seen many great players and powerhouse teams. Joe Accongia’s dynasty at the old Jefferson High School came to mind.
At the same time, Lohrman can never remember a team well organized enough to consistently send a full complement of players to the states and then nationals. He showed me a photo of the 1997 Brighton team that did go to the nationals. But that was a one-time event. By the time this Wilson team graduates, it will most likely make five. And, Lohrman believes a championship is a realistic possibility.
Much of the success of the team is attributable to its dedicated coach, Wilson teacher Dr. Jeffrey Green. According to Green, what makes this team so special is the level of commitment from not just the players, but from their parents and the other adults in their lives. Fundamentally he sees chess as a metaphor for education: successful chess players come about the same way as successful students, and that is through a strong parent and teacher relationship.
Green believes children, “are born with a natural curiosity and a desire to learn, but all too often that desire is stifled at an early age and learning becomes a chore.” Because students freely choose to play, they actually come to see chess not as an empty end point or product, like high stakes testing, but as an authentic process of intellectual exploration. In some ways, the chessboard becomes an ideal classroom.
So it seems, chess makes city schools better.