Meneley crowns chess kings |

Meneley crowns chess kings

by Scott Neuffer

With two queens to rule the board, 10-year-old Tobin Mayotte checkmated his way to victory during Meneley Elementary School’s chess championship on Jan. 12.

“It was a close game,” retired teacher and event organizer Mike Jessup reported after the final match. “After his pawn reached the other side, Tobin got another queen, and with two queens he pretty much cleared the board.”

The prodigious fifth-grader is no stranger to victory. In his third- and fourth-grade years at the school he clinched two consecutive junior division titles. As a fifth-grader, it was his first year in the upper division.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Tobin said before the match-up. “Everyone’s watching the final round.”

He then went brain-to-brain with 12-year-old sixth-grader Orion Embree.

“Everyone has been saying that we’re so equal,” Orion said, also a little anxious.

In the junior division bracket, two third-graders, Jose Saldara-Vargas and Kole Karwoski, bested two fourth-graders for the championship spot. In a final round that lasted 45 minutes, Jose was able to pin Kole’s king between rook and knight.

“The students play at lunch. They give up their recess and usually eat their lunches while they play,” Jessup said. “We do it at lunch because then everybody gets to play.”

Meneley’s chess tournaments are Gardnerville-famous. Former superintendent John Soderman started them in 1980. Jessup, a fifth-grade teacher who recently retired, picked up the reins about 22 years ago. His son, Joshua Jessup, is on a long list of school champs.

“I was substituting here,” he said, “and the kids were asking me if we were going to have a tournament this year.”

To make a short story even shorter, Jessup decided to volunteer to ensure that the tournament would go on. He was soon filling out two brackets at the school’s entrance, filtering 110 students, in two divisions, through six rounds of play over a week.

“We had 28 chess sets to start,” he said. “It took two days to do the first round because we did third- and fourth-graders one day and then fifth and sixth the other.”

Jessup lauded Meneley’s staff for their support.

“It takes staff buy-in, too,” he said. “Teachers have been very supportive.”

The payoff could be seen in the enthusiasm of students. Both champions were excited to get their names engraved in the school’s long-standing plaque, which is kept in the front office.

“I like how you have to think,” Tobin said. “Sometimes I just play the game as it goes, and sometimes I have ideas in my head and use them.”