Chess program saves teens |

Chess program saves teens

Michael Schneider

Chess is a game in which the person who makes the best choices wins.

Deputy District Attorney Derrick Lopez hopes this idea will hold true, not only to make the kids in his new chess program better players, but also that the lessons learned will help them to make better choices in life.

Lopez began the chess program in September with the help of the county’s district judges, Dave Gamble and Michael Gibbons, Lujean Johnson and Scott Cook of juvenile probation, and Scott Doyle and Lopez of the District Attorney’s office.

Lopez said the defense attorneys who are under contract by the county to act as public defenders – Tod Young, Michael and Terrie Steik Roese and Pat Gilbert – contributed money toward the program to pay for materials such as chess boards, books and instructional videos.

Lopez said the program, which consists of 10 young people, some of whom have had problems with the law and some of whom haven’t, should be more successful with the donations.

“Giving them a board of their own increases the likelihood that they’ll play on their own,” said Lopez of the portable chess boards bought with money donated from the law firm of Beavers and Young.

“When he (Lopez) is willing to commit so much time and energy to this, my partner and I thought we could do something,” said Young.

“We donated money for books,” said Terri Steik Roeser of her law firm’s donation for books which the aspiring chess players can check out to polish up on newly learned strategies. “I thought it was a good program to help the kids. It gets their energies moving in the right direction.”

Lopez said that not only will the program make the participants better chess players, but it will also help them to think about life decisions more thoroughly with special attention to the consequences of moves not made on the chess board.

“By thinking in those terms in chess, then as a natural consequence, they will start thinking that way in life,” said Lopez. “It’s not so much chess, but in doing so, it will strengthen their minds.”

Lopez said that the pupils won’t be playing chess against each other each week in the class, which meets on Thursday afternoons at the judicial building, but will instead watch movies related to chess and also participate in exercises in which players are given a limited number of pieces and moves to achieve a certain goal.

“That way, it’s easier to get them to recognize the weapons of chess,” said Lopez. “Once you show them a correct move and the reasons why, they’ve got it.

“The more they play, the more they want to play. I’d liken it to tennis; once they get the hang of it, it becomes fun. It becomes addictive.”

Lopez hopes to trade in other addictions for an addiction to chess.

He said of the 10 participants, three were ordered to be in the program by judges, four are there to earn credit for their probationary terms and three simply want to be involved in the program.

Lopez said that towards the end of the 10-lesson program, participants will begin a tournament which is strictly voluntary.

He said after the first group graduates from the program, he hopes to have some of them stick around to teach a new group of chess recruits while others will move on to a new intermediate program in which he will teach them more advanced moves and strategies.

“I’ve got a lot of hope for it,” said Lopez. “They seem excited to be there.”

Lopez said that over the coming weeks, he will teach the students various games such as team chess, which will help the aspiring chess player’s attacking skills.

“I think it has the potential to be a really good program,” said Young.

“It seems like a good program,” said Gilbert. “I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Lopez.

“This is one more tool to help the kids succeed.”

Lopez said he hopes to get grant money to continue the program and more private donors than the small group of local attorneys who helped get the program on its feet.

“Hopefully, they’ll learn something from it and enjoy it,” he said of the founding members of his chess program.