Taos News Unsung Heroes: Dennis Hedges
Saturday, October 13, 2012 1:00 pm

Chess is like a lake that a mosquito can float on or an elephant can bathe in.

Dennis Hedges has taught hundreds of kids how to play chess. For the last 25 years he’s been teaching students chess at Enos García Elementary School and other elementary schools in Taos. Many floated on chess’ surface for a while and then flew off to other activities. Others have become elephants bathing in the game’s deep waters.

“The main thing we focus on is fun,” Hedges said. “If it’s fun they’ll keep doing it and you get better by doing something.”

Hedges finds that a lot of the time he does more encouraging than actually coaching.

“I never push the students to compete,” Hedges said. “It’s more like a fun, social thing, but the opportunity (to compete) is there and they can take it a whole new level.”

The students who have chosen to compete in chess have experienced plenty of success. Hedges’ elementary teams have won about dozen New Mexico state championships and the high school team is always in the mix with Albuquerque Academy for the state’s top spot.

Some of his players have even gone on to play chess in college. Jeff Serna, for instance, was awarded a full-ride scholarship to attend the University of Texas after a successful high school chess career.

“I thought it was great, but I have to give him all of the credit,” Hedges said.

Serna was largely self-motivated and liked to do things people told him he couldn’t do. Now he’s continuing to challenge himself by playing against some of the best players in the world.

“He made the commitment to go to school and play with world-class players,” Hedges said. “I’m proud of him for that.”

Simply attending the national championships held at Disney World every other year, however, is big motivator for many other local students. Getting the opportunity to travel around the country and compete in something they’ve worked for has had positive effects on many students.

The experiences at the meets, and not necessarily the chess, are what a lot of the students remember.

The first time Taos attended the national championships was 1989 in Tempe, Ariz. Hedges remembers an entire basketball court was lined with chess boards, spectators were watching games through binoculars and the arena was absolutely silent.

“It was eerie,” Hedges said.

Two years after his introduction to the national championships, Taos competed in New York at the Rye Town Hilton for the national meet. Taos had had some success at the national meet in Arizona, but New York was Taos’ real coming-out party.

“The kids really surprised us,” Hedges said. “Chess became a cool thing to do in school.”

After that, one hundred kids would be practicing chess during their lunch hour.

Working with all of the kids, not just the ones who have excelled, is why Hedges likes to coach. His favorite part of coaching is simply the relationships he builds with the kids.

“I think Taos is a special place,” Hedges said. “It’s a unique community with kids from all walks of life and you can see that that stuff doesn’t matter. It goes back to dedication; it’s all dependent on what they put into it.”

Chess is a sport that anyone can compete in. Chess isn’t money dependent and it isn’t size dependent. It’s a sport people can do almost their entire lives.

The first students in Taos Hedges taught how to play chess were in his special education class.

“I found they became really good chess players; that was a nice boost to their egos,” Hedges said. “It showed (me) that they were spatially oriented, not linear.”

If one thing sticks out to Hedges, is that backgrounds, socioeconomic factors and natural ability don’t translate to success. Hard work translates.

“It’s not the ability but the desire that makes the player,” Hedges said. “There’s no one way to learn something. It just takes dedication and a love for the sport.”

Chess, as Dennis Hedges sees it, is one part science — using the mind in a logical way; one part art — creating a beautiful game filled with creative and interesting moves; and one part sport — it’s competitive and games have a winner and a loser.

Hedges says that people need to have a strong body to have a strong mind, but he thinks there needs to be a better balance between the physical and mental work that goes into sports.

“I think there’s too much emphasis on team sports that focus on the physical,” Hedges said. “I’d like to see more emphasis on mental sports. You can’t just work out your body and not your mind.”

Before coaching chess, Hedges used to coach wrestling, one of the most physical sports there is, at Taos High. His wrestling teams also experienced lots of success.

After a dozen years on the mat, however, Hedges switched to chess boards.

Chess also teaches people to think before making a move and to understand the consequences of their actions.

Beyond coaching, he encourages his players to coach too.

“What we found that works great is peer coaching,” Hedges said.

Hedges said he takes some of the high school players and has them teach younger players. 

The mentor-protogé relationships work both ways. The high school students want their protogés to do well because it reflects on them, like an investment. The younger players also look up the older players so they’re willing to listen and pay good, close attention.

For his years and years of providing opportunities, working with students and helping them succeed, Hedges is honored as one of Taos’ Unsung Heroes.

Source:  http://www.taosnews.com

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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