Monday, Jun 24, 2019

Checkmate: Chess returns to HHS

The Harvard High School chess team competes against North Boone High School Nov. 26. HML PHOTO BY EMMA SACHS

Harvard High School has four team IHSA state championships. Most Harvard residents know that the wrestling team has two of them, but not many know that Harvard’s first two team state championships were won by the chess team in 1976 and 1977 under the leadership of former HHS English teacher Loren Ingram.

The chess team, which was gone for more than 10 years, returned this winter with HHS math teacher Jake House as the head coach.

House said he approached the school district about the chess program when he was hired three years ago.

“It was a long process to get it going,” House said. “The board finally approved it this year, so I am thankful to them for doing it.”

House credited Harvard High School Principal Rob Zielinski and Harvard School District 50 Athletic Director Matt Rife with helping get the program in place.

“Once we actually got approval by the board, then it was just a matter of getting the students enthusiastic about it,” House said. “Particularly when it comes to chess, there is a negative stigma that comes with it. Chess players are often turned upside down in garbage cans.”

The team has 15 members, and House said he would have had more players if not for conflicts with other activities.

“One thing I have noticed at [HHS] is there are a lot of students who actually have been playing chess, enjoying it and for the first time there is an actual team,” House said. “I was floored by the number of kids that came to me interested.” House said there are several benefits from chess.

“It’s great for the kids. It gives the kids who are really interested in participating in things another outlet, especially when they aren’t extraordinarily athletic. It’s just another way for them to get involved. It gets them to think critically about situations, which is something we are trying to teach at school. If we can find another outlet, it’s good for everybody.”

HHS juniors Alec Forret and Gerardo Rivera are excited chess has returned to the school.

“I have a strong passion for chess,” said Forret, who plays first board for the team. “It began my freshman year, and I want to see how far I can go this year. I like playing against other players and seeing how good I am.”

“I tried out because it is my last year,” said Rivera who will graduate early. “It’s fun. I like chess. Why not?”

HHS will compete in the IHSA state tournament, which will be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 14 and 15, at the Peoria Civic Center, Peoria. To qualify for the state tournament, students have to participate in two multi-round tournaments, which the Hornets will do in January.

“The chess [state] tournament is massive with over 150 schools each with 10 players all playing in seven rounds simultaneously,” House said. “It’s quite a spectacle.”

The rest of the team includes Sam Stephan, Joseph Deal, Roberto Elizarraraz, Marcelino Perales, Lucan McCloud, Pedro Jimenez, Eduardo Galvez, Alex Wiltshire, Henry Mensendike, Nestor Mena and Nathan Mykytiuk. Miles Gratz, from HSD-50 technology department, is the assistant coach.