Check, please: Chess makes comeback at Maine South
Park Ridge Saturday Jan 26 2013 Participants in the North Suburban Chess League tournament start their first round inside of the Maine South HIgh School library.This is the first year since 2007 that Maine South has had a chess team | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:04AM
PARK RIDGE — The room is practically silent, but the tension in the air, the concentration of competition, is palpable.
There is no cheering section here — no one utters a word.
They simply watch.
This isn’t your average high school sport. Outsiders might even argue that it actually isn’t a real sport. But for players like Patrick Daleiden, chess is the real deal.
“I definitely consider it a sport,” said Daleiden, a Maine South High School senior who reignited interest in chess at his school last year when he pursued a revival of the chess team, inactive since 2007. “There was one tournament where there were four other guys on the team and we had matches over two days. The matches were a maximum of four hours long. It was over a three-day weekend and I thought I was going to have Monday to do homework. I was more sick than I’ve ever been, just because it was so mentally and physically exhausting.”
Daleiden, like other members of the team, started learning chess as a child. His mother, he said, wanted him to learn the game and even hired a coach to teach him the finer points.
As a student at Maine South, Daleiden, having friends who played, expressed interest in bringing back the school’s competitive chess team and reached out to teacher Kevin Hurley, coach of the Maine South Math Team.
“The credit to getting the team where it is really belongs to Pat because he put himself out there,” Hurley, who now sponsors the chess team, said. “He wanted something for him and his friends and was willing to do what was required to make it happen.”
The team, which has won five out of seven matches this school year, currently boasts about 16 to 17 participants, with eight players competing in each match.
“That’s been phenomenal,” Hurley noted. “The seniors this year have really been the driving force behind this. Because they’re so into it, I get into it.”
The Maine South Chess Team is a member of the North Suburban Chess League, which is comprised of 14 schools within two divisions. Schools in Maine South’s division include Niles North, Niles West, New Trier, Maine West and Evanston Township High Schools, as well as Notre Dame College Prep and Northridge Prep.
On Jan. 26, Maine South hosted a three-round tournament in the school’s library, with each player given 45 minutes to make all of their moves.
Eleven players are also gearing up for the state competition on Feb. 8 and 9 in Peoria.
The team does not receive funding from Maine South or High School District 207, so everything from game pieces to competing in tournaments is funded by the group itself, largely with help from Hurley and parents.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said team member Connor Mullane, who learned chess from his cousin around the age of 13. “I hadn’t played any competitive chess, so this was my first time at it.”
Ir-Jene Shan, a freshman, got his start playing Chinese chess with his grandfather before taking up the Western version of the game.
“I hadn’t played chess in a while, and I thought (the team) would be fun,” he said.
Before they played competitively, the students acknowledged that they primarily played against family and friends.
“Anybody can definitely learn how to play chess and be good at it,” noted player Marko Bogicevic.
One stereotype people seem to have about chess players is that they are not athletic, Daleiden said. But he insists it’s not true.
“I would say more than half our team is a very athletic group,” he said. “It’s just putting their intellectual adeptness into play.”
For now, chess appears to be a male-dominated sport, with only a handful of girls taking part in the Jan. 26 tournament at Maine South. Hurley said he hopes to see that change.
For the players, Hurley also wants the chess team to be “an experience they remember for the rest of their lives.”
“Have fun — always, always, always. That’s the number one thing I always say,” Hurley said.