Catholic High’s move to chess club is a winning decision – Arkansas Catholic

Little Rock school eldest named MVP after finishing first at state tournament

Posted: April 29, 2021

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Seniors Lucas Ortiz (right) and Connor Ward take part in the chess club meeting at Little Rock Catholic High School on April 21. Ortiz placed first and also won the most valuable player in the state chess tournament.

A few things led the Catholic High School Chess Club to win the state tournament: the pandemic, a popular Netflix miniseries — and the hidden chess talents of its students.

“I was shocked at how good some of these guys were,” said chess club sponsor Steve Aday, an English and religion teacher, alumni director and former pupil of Little School. Rock in 2002. “I’m going from fair to good. I am perfectly adequate. I can give a good challenge to some of these guys, but they beat me all the time.

Catholic High had chess clubs in the past which dissipated as attendance dwindled. Aday, who has been playing chess since he was in third grade, said it was time for a rebirth.

“So I just thought with virtual (learning) and everything and because there were so few opportunities for clubs to be able to be together, to participate, to do normal things, I thought Doing a chess club through chess.com would be an easy way for guys to have camaraderie with each other,” Aday said. “It was ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ on Netflix that inspired me , as well as everyone in the world, to return to chess.”

According to a Dec. 6 CNN.com article, the Netflix show starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the fictional Beth Harmon, an orphan from Kentucky who conquered the male-dominated world of chess in the 1960s while battling addiction to pills and alcohol, spurred a renewed interest in the classic game. Chess.com added 3.2 million members after the series premiered on the streaming service in October. Sales of chess sets skyrocketed 87% in the United States, and sales of chess books jumped 603% three weeks after the show debuted.

Although Aday admits that most students have little interest in this period drama, the club has generated a lot of interest. About 67 students participate in the club through online games at chess.com. The matches, which can last from 10 to 15 minutes, or “if you’re not good, I can beat you in four moves”, jokes Aday, are played every evening. Skill levels range from beginners to experienced players, with chess.com offering lessons. Aday said around 90% of the club’s students have played. The club meets in person on Wednesdays.

“My dad taught me when I was about 5, and I fell in love with the game,” said 16-year-old sophomore Caleb Collins. “I’ve been playing pretty much all my life. Especially online, because I’ve gotten too good where my parents don’t want to play me anymore.

Collins, who won fourth place in the state tournament on April 10, played daily for years.

“I love that you can get creative with how you move your pieces…it’s just fun,” Collins said. “You can get creative with different sacrifices with your pieces to try and checkmate the opponent.”

Twelve Catholic high school students competed in the Arkansas Schools Chess Association Regional Tournament. Eight of them — Collins, Tatum Howard, Jackson Smith, Enzo Cordova-Page, Anthony Hailey, Lucas Ortiz, Walker Cunningham and Mason Walsh — made it to the 4A-7A state tournament on April 10, competing against 67 students. Five CHS students finished in the top 10 overall, and Ortiz won the tournament as well as MVP.

Ortiz said he learned the game as a child, but didn’t start playing regularly until last December, his interest sparked by friends and after watching “The Queen’s Gambit.” He admitted he got better “because this guy (Collins) beat me so many times when I started playing”.

“I was a bit surprised,” the 18-year-old senior said of his state win, “because in the regional tournament I didn’t win…I lost a game, and so I knew there were some really strong players that were going to play in the tournament, play on the court, so I guess that combination of skill and luck, I managed to win.

Sixty-five students participated in a CHS Club Tournament, with a March-Madness-style installment ending in mid-May.

“There’s no question that’s the strategy behind the game,” Aday said of the life lessons students can learn from failure. “Plan some things, play the long game. All of these things come into life when you think about the future. They have to plan so many next steps in their life instead of just the next step they are going to take.

Both Collins and Ortiz agree that creativity and strategy will serve them well going forward.

“Another skill is being able to think under pressure, critical thinking, as well as quick decision-making, both of which are important skills, depending on the area of ​​life, the profession you want to be in life. “, Ortiz said.


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