It’s possible to sit in the Bull Run Elementary cafeteria packed with more than 100 students and not hear a single word. But the silence is not a result of students being disciplined. Rather, they are having fun. Sitting quietly between hand shakes, which start and end each game of chess, the 140 club members compete against each other every Thursday night between 6:30 and 8 p.m.
“COACH BILL MOORE volunteers his time every Thursday,” says Vicki Ruiter, the mother of three chess club members. “This is the only club that charges just $10 for the entire year. All of his work is truly a labor of love,” she says.
With a passionate coach and a bright group of students, it is hardly surprising that Bull Run Elementary recently won the K-5 State Championship along with Greenbriar West Elementary School. With 21 members on the State Championship team, Bull Run has the largest team in Virginia. The tournament was held for two days in Richmond and each member played six games that progressively increased in time.
“Going to Richmond was so much fun,” says fifth-grader Ryan Szymanski. “We stayed overnight in a hotel and played chess for hours.”
There are no age requirements to play chess at Bull Run Elementary. Some children as young as 4 have joined the club and several middle school students who previously attended Bull Run still play chess on Thursdays and help to teach younger students new strategies.
“If a child knows how to play chess and can sit still for two hours, then that child is welcome,” says Coach Moore.
Coach Moore’s youngest son Gavin, 10, learned how to properly set up a chess board at the age of 1. “I started actually playing when I was 2,” says Gavin. “My whole family started playing chess together because my dad ruptured his Achilles tendon and was on the couch for months.”
IN FACT, it was during those few months that Coach Moore developed his love for chess. As a father of three small boys, the coach realized it was necessary to find a game they could all play together while he was injured. The family took a trip to the library, checked out books on chess strategies, and bought a chess board.
“We all started at the same level and learned together,” says Gavin. With chess ratings ranging from 100 to 2,800, both Gavin and his older brother Quentin, who teaches chess to younger students at Bull Run, are doing extremely well. Gavin’s rating is 1,000 and Quentin’s is 2,000. In fact, Quentin is considered an adult expert and is currently the 10th highest rated 13-year-old in the U.S.
What started as a fun game soon became a serious hobby and sport for the Moore family. Looking back, Coach Moore is proud of his seven years at the Bull Run chess club. While the students have fun and enjoy playing chess, parents seem to be especially grateful.
“While playing chess, children learn a lot of patience, how to think logically, how to plan things out ahead of time, and are able to engage in friendly competition,” says Ruiter. ‘It makes you think, ‘what I can do to make myself better — to improve my weaknesses.’ That is great for children.”
Jamie Senft, 11, likes chess because it’s a great way to make new friends. “I meet all kinds of people while playing chess that I might otherwise have never talked to. It’s great because we share the same interest.”
Juhong Shin, 10, enjoys chess because it reminds him of his grandpa, who he plays Chinese checkers with. For other students, chess is rewarding because real progress can be seen when playing against people who are not in the club and by improving chess ratings.
But adult expert Quentin believes there is more to chess than the 64 squares on the board. “Chess makes it so I never give up in anything because giving up means that you have a zero percent chance of doing something,” he says. “Even just a 5 percent chance means that something is possible so it teaches you — don’t ever give up.”
Coach Moore agrees and believes that the game of chess has valuable life lessons. “Chess teaches you — take your time, make wise decisions, learn from your mistakes, be respectful,” he says. “If you make a bad move on the chess board you may get into a bind but you can play again. But once you walk out those doors and make a bad decision, it’s harder to put the pieces back together again.”
Therefore, thinking ahead and learning to consider the consequences of any action is a great lesson for students. Coach Moore also suggested that there seems to be a positive correlation between a good chess player and strong math skills.
“CHESS IS GREAT because you can play it your whole life,” says the coach. “You can play in any country regardless of language because the rules are the same.”
Ultimately, chess is about having fun. If students would rather participate in a different activity, that is perfectly OK and encouraged as well.
But just how good are the students at Bull Run Elementary? “I only play my youngest who is in first grade,” said Ruiter laughing. “My third- and fifth-grader beat me every time.”