© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
It may just be a friendly warm up game, but Parker Mullen still takes his chess game seriously. The young student was participating Sunday in the first P.E.I Youth Chess Association monthly scholastic chess tournment at Colonel Gray Senior High School in Charlottetown.
A game promoting critical thinking, problem solving, and sportsmanship is rising in popularity among Prince Edward Island students.
Tom Crowell, president of the P.E.I. Youth Chess Association, said there has been a number of new students and schools getting involved in the strategy game during the past couple of years.
That’s a good thing, said Crowell, who listed a number of benefits for students who play chess, which is easy to learn at a basic level but can also become a lifelong journey to become a grand master.
“There are so many (benefits) that where do you start? There’s whole books written on it,” Crowell said during an interview with The Guardian. “It promotes fair play and it’s an intellectual pursuit that involves critical thinking for a lot of young kids.”
The association holds a number of tournaments throughout the year at Colonel Gray High School, which is $10 per player plus $5 for any extra siblings.
While Crowell said its gratifying to see many newcomers at the tournaments, the association is still hoping to spread the game to other Island schools.
He said any schools wanting to start a chess club can get help from the organization through their program “chess in a box.”
“They can contact us and we’ll provide them all the material they need, including boards, instructional manuals and ideas in terms of how to set the club up,” he said. “A lot of times, teachers are reluctant to do that because maybe they don’t play chess. But you don’t need to play chess at a high level to run a program.”
While hundreds are drop-ins at the tournaments, each one typically sees about 50 players with a larger turnout at the provincial championship to decide who represents each grade nationally.
Iain Crowell, who has played in a number of national tournaments, said the experience is unlike any other.
“It’s a good experience,” he said, adding that he would encourage any other students to at least try the game. “If you’re not sure if you should start playing, definitely try it.”
Aaron Rainnie, a first year UPEI student, has also been to nationals through the program a number of times and is now vice president of the association.
While Rainnie will mainly be refereeing games this year, he said playing chess has helped him and many other students with other pursuits.
“There’s a huge mental benefit,” he said. “It helps a lot with patience, concentration and a lot of the logical thought processes that kids need.
“I’ve seen it in a lot of kids that play here, they’re fairly good at school because they have that ability to concentrate and think logically.”
Sandy McDonald, a Grade 10 École Francois Buote student, had first played in the national tournament as P.E.I.’s Grade 1 representative.
However, he later gave the game up before returning to it a couple of years ago when his school introduced a chess club.
“A bunch of my friends played, so I decided to start playing again,” said McDonald, who was province’s Grade 9 representative in last year’s national tournament in Ottawa, Ont.
Rainnie has also helped several schools on P.E.I. get chess programs started, something which he said should be in all schools.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “Since we’ve been doing this we’ve seen an increase in players at the tournaments. It does show that what we’re doing is helping.”
The association’s next tournament is being held at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27 in Colonel Gray High School.
More information on the association as well as tournament dates can be found at the group’s website www.peiyca.ca.