Anyone for a game of chess?

A coveted trophy displaying all the names of past chess tournament winners in the front lobby of Meneley Elementary School was what chess players were vying to get their names on June 6.

"This tournament is the largest one we ever had," said organizer and fifth-grade teacher Mike Jessup. "We had 150 participants."

Jessup explained that the students, grades first through sixth, play during their lunch time, at the same time that the chess club meets.

"Interest and participation just grows every year," Jessup said.

In the senior division - fifth and sixth graders - fifth-grader Isaiah Russell competed against former winner E.J. Rose, a sixth-grader. This was the seventh and final round of games that were played at the school during this tournament.

"Each of these guys has won five or six matches at least to make it this far," said Jessup. "This is Isaiah's first time making it into the finals."

E.J. eventually made the winning move. He said he was happy to win again and that he had learned to play at home when he was about in third grade.

All eyes shifted to the junior division - first through fourth grade - players, former winner third-grader Koby Hinnant and his second-grade opponent Christopher Bleyer, who made it to the finals for the first time. Students and parents didn't have to look long because within minutes, with one quick move, Christopher won the game.

The students surrounded the winner.

"He was the No. 1 best," said one boy with eyes open wide, to Christopher of Koby.

"It was a very advanced move and he's only in second grade," said Jessup. "Christopher was able to trap the king using his queen. You could tell Koby was really surprised. Koby's usually the one doing the surprising.

"I had a first grader make it through the finals last year," said Jessup. "Some of them pick it up pretty fast."

Students were not only hoping to get their names engraved on the trophy, but each winner and runner-up received a prize, plus the winners took home a certificate.

"I lost in the first round," said second-grader Spencer Davidson-Wetzel. "It was hard because he was good. I'm going to practice the whole summer ... well, maybe not the whole summer."

Second-grader Jared Swenson said he made it to the finals twice before.

"I started playing when I was 3," he said.

Chess tournaments began in 1980 at Meneley with John Soderman, former Douglas County School District superintendent who was then a teacher at the elementary school, organizing the tournaments. Soderman moved on and the school went without tournaments until 18 years ago when Mike Jessup began teaching there. Now they have three tournaments a year, during Back to School, in the winter and this one, at springtime.

"My sons were going to school here then and chess is one of the games we like to play together," said Jessup.

"When I started only about 18 years ago, 35 students participated then. It just grows every year."

-- Jo Rafferty can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 210.


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