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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

2007 National High School Championship - Some Random Thoughts

I'll be working to put together a more coherent piece about the just-finished High School nationals, but here are a few random thoughts:

  • I found the tournament staff to be helpful and courteous, if not always completely knowledgeable (one USCF staffer I spoke with had never heard of the ChessCafe website, and the poor announcer at the awards ceremony had a terrible time with player and school names).

  • The tournament hotel had two major events going on at the same time - the National High School Championship and a girls' dancing group. I saw chess boards and sets strewn all over the place, with kids (and adults) conducting post-mortems and playing blitz, but I didn't see too many ballerinas twirling around the hallways (actually I didn't see any).

  • I met a chess mother from Brownsville, Texas who was touting the universality of chess. "Not everyone has brawn," she said, "but everyone's got brains!"

  • The school coaches definitely appeared more stressed than the players, at least the ones I spoke with. "Chess is tough, man," Catalina Foothills coach Robby Adamson told me during the final round. His team was in the position of having to come from behind to catch the team from Edward R. Murrow after leading the tournament most of the way. "It looks like it could be another heartbreak."

  • At the same time Murrow coach Eliot Weiss paced from board to board, monitoring his players, Catalina Foothills' players, and doubtlessly calculating the various possible outcomes.

  • Despite this tension, there was outstanding sportsmanship displayed. On his way out of the tournament hall following the finish of his last-round game, Sal Bercys of the Murrow squad went directly to opposing coach Adamson and had a pleasant conversation about the last round or two of the tournament. I asked Adamson about this and he replied, "I'm friendly with a lot of the guys. I try not to make it personal unless the other guy makes it personal, and even then, I prefer to just walk away."

  • While waiting for the award ceremony to begin, I spoke with Alex Lenderman of Murrow, and he had only nice things to say about the Catalina Foothills team. I noted that this year was similar to 2005, when Murrow and Catalina Foothills also tied, with the Arizona team winning the title on tiebreak points. "No, this is much better this time, because they have a great team," noted Lenderman.

  • Early into the awards ceremony, a loud announcement rang through the hall. "An emergency has occurred. Please leave the building." Over and over again. People looked around, wondering if this was real or not, but the hall cleared quickly and in an orderly manner. When it was determined that someone had (accidentally??) pulled an alarm switch, the tournament staff jokingly announced that the mass of trophies were up for grabs. "It's first come, first served!" they announced.

  • It was only after the conclusion of the tournament that I took a close look at my press badge. "2007 National Junior High School Championship," it read.

  • I was VERY impressed with the conduct and demeanor of the nearly 1500 kids in attendance. I found them to be respectful to each other and to the adults, and well-behaved. Black kids, white kids, hispanic kids, asian kids, Indian kids, boys, girls, pre-teens and teenagers all intermingled, enjoying the intellectual challenge of chess and enjoying even more the social interaction that the tournament provided. The chess community can be very proud of such competitors.

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