Castling over sandwiches: Teacher uses lunchtime for chess

By Jenny Kane The Daily Times

Posted: 09/01/2011 12:17:19 AM MDT

FARMINGTON — Chess is not just a stuffy intellectuals’ rainy day pastime in Heights Middle School teacher Wayne Leupold’s classroom.

“He kills us,” said student Cody Mathes.

“He crushes all of our hopes and dreams in one game,” added Sheston Culpepper.

“Yeah, pretty much,” agreed their peer, Ethan Noyes.

Every lunch period at Heights Middle School, about 40 eighth-grade students file into room 407 to play chess during one of their few half-hour breaks in the day. The game is centuries old and is played worldwide by people from all walks of life, but it is not what one would consider a common hobby for teenagers.

“At first I thought it was boring,” said student Everardo Dominguez, who had not played the board game before Leupold taught him the rules.

Each class the students pair up, crouching over flimsy black-and-white-checked boards and carefully arranging their rows of plastic armies.

The kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks and all of the little pawns stand ready.

One unlucky victim usually pairs with Leupold, and then the games begin.

“While they’re doing their lunch, they’re thinking,” said Leupold, the language arts teacher who began the daily gathering about five years ago.

“It’s really something to see,” Vice Principal Donny Ortiz said. “They really crunch in there.”

The students range in skill from complete beginners who have never seen a chess set in their lives, to young connoisseurs who have played since early childhood. Leupold runs a year-end tournament for all the students, in which they compete for chess sets for a small entrance fee.

And the students are good.

“I’ve already lost once this year,” said Leupold, who said he never has seen such a full class in the beginning of the school year.

Though chess is not offered in the school, students have grown to love the activity because Leupold focuses little on strategy while still encouraging critical thinking.

And it stirs friendly competition … kind of.

“I think your next move, you are dead meat. Yes, you are dead meat,” Leupold said, watching as his student opponent cornered her king into a near checkmate.

By the end of the lunch period Wednesday, the students who already finished still hung around. They hovered around their teacher as his king was corralled into the corner of the board in the final practice session of the period.

“Oooh,” students groaned as their peer made a move.

“Yea!” they cheer at the next, which finally marked Leupold’s loss.

No matter the outcome, each game ends with a handshake, and with both players likely looking forward to the next lunch match.


Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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