Fremont: School’s chess team coach honored by students, parents
November 17, 2016 at 5:24 pm

FREMONT — Parents, students and administrators gathered at Mission San Jose Elementary School on Monday evening to honor a man who has dedicated 26 years to teaching children the finer points of playing chess.

Joe Lonsdale, 69, has headed up the school’s chess teams since 1990, when his oldest son, Joe Lonsdale Jr., was a student. Under Lonsdale’s tutelage, the chess teams have racked up many victories.

The teams have taken first place in the K-6 section of the California State Chess Championship in 10 out of the last 12 years. In 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2016, the teams also placed first in the National Chess Championship in the K-6 section.

Parents unveiled a large chess mosaic mural featuring king, knight, rook and queen chess pieces. The art was added to the edges of an existing mosaic featuring a Mustang, the school’s mascot.

The chess mural project was led by retired teacher Kathleen Martin, who received the help of chess team parents; it took about three weeks to complete.

In addition, Fremont Mayor-elect Lily Mei unveiled an honorary bronze plaque.

Lonsdale said in an interview the mosaic and plaque dedications were “very, very nice,” adding that parents and children have always expressed their gratitude to him over the years.

He said watching the children he coaches grow and learn from kindergarten through sixth grade is rewarding.

“Can you pick out the ones that are going to excel?,” he said referring to his challenge as each team starts to take shape. “And can you help them excel? And can you make them believe they’re good enough?”

Lonsdale says encouraging children to focus on chess to become better players is as simple as being straightforward and honest with them. He also says he works hard to instill good sportsmanship values so they win with grace and lose with class.

“I don’t think you ever lose the ability to communicate with kids if you treat them as people. Kids are people,” he said. “They want to believe that they can do things, they want to excel.”

Lonsdale says kids who believe they can do well in chess take that confidence into other aspects of their lives. His oldest son is a good example, as he took up chess when he was 3 after watching his dad play with friends. Lonsdale Jr. went on to graduate from Stanford and co-found the $20 billion data analysis firm Palantir Technologies in Palo Alto.

Lonsdale spends a couple of days each week with students from the all-inclusive chess club, then culls a chess team from that field. The children on the team compete against each other while learning from Lonsdale and other student teachers. This year’s team has 70 members.

Several of Lonsdale’s former students have gone on to reach a 2,000 rating, an expert-level score in chess.

When Lonsdale comes around the room at the end of a round, children dart their eyes around the board and perk up their ears as he leans over to show them alternative answers to their chess miscues.

Lonsdale said he has no plans to give up his coaching gig.


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