What’s in a game?

Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter

March 14, 2017 9:13 a.m.

Let me set the scene for you. We approached the building and saw maybe 18 youngsters. They were talking to each other, studying tables in front of them, and seemingly intent on what they were doing. I only saw one youngster on a cell phone. What was this unusual event, you ask? Fernandina’ own youth chess club.

The club, started by Tom Rowan, meets Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons after school. Tom provides coaching and encouragement to his students. He started the club last July with some encouragement from people who thought there would be a lot of interest in youth chess. The difficulty would be finding a venue. Tom said he began with 6 kids and currently has around 27 kids, ages 8 and up.

Cayman Hogue and Landon Plungis enjoying a game of chess.

He takes some of the youngsters to monthly chess tournaments in Jacksonville. One of the girls has won first place twice and one boy won second place. These are regulation tournaments and the kids play chess from 9 am to 3 pm. Students who want to play in these tournaments must register with the U.S. Chess Federation. This allows them to be rated, a requirement for the tournaments.

Reporter Evelyn McDonald watch as Tom Rowan offers instruction to William Davidson.

I asked one boy how long he’d been interested in chess. After a long pause, he said, “I think since I was 6.” He added, “Now I’m 11.” I watched as he played Tom and gave him a very good game.

Tom, who moved here from Houston with his wife in 2009, said he’d originally set the group up because he wanted to play chess more. Now he gets the most enjoyment from coaching the kids and seeing them interact with each other. “Notice, they are not on their phones. They are actually talking to each other.”

River Phillips takes on challenger.

There’s a lot to be learned from chess and Tom emphasizes that in his coaching. He will explain why a particular move may not be a good one. The player can take the move back and make another move. Tom will then sometimes ask why they think that move is a good one. One comment he made is very good advice to anyone. He told one player to try to visualize the whole board. That is a valuable lesson. Don’t just focus on the piece you want to capture but consider the consequences to every other piece.

None of this would be possible, according to Tom, without the generosity of Amy Petroy, owner of The Patio Place. When she offered the use of the restaurant, he reminded her that these are kids and kids can be noisy. She said that was okay and that the times he wanted to hold the chess club wouldn’t be a problem. Part of the restaurant’s mission is to support the community and the chess club is a great opportunity to do just that.

For more information contact Tom Rowan at tomchuck3@hotmail.com.

Evelyn McDonaldEvelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. She is a chair of Arts & Culture Nassau, a city commission charged with support of the arts in Nassau County. She serves on FSCJ’s Curriculum Committee for the Center for Lifelong Learning. She is also the chair of the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.

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7 Responses to What’s in a game?

  1. Treena Rowan says:

    That’s my son – I’m very proud of him!

  2. Dave Lott says:

    What a great activity for the kids. Thank you Tom for your time and Amy for making your restaurant available to the kids.

  3. Tom Rowan says:

    Thank you Susan Steger and Evelyn McDonald for the lovely write up and photos. It is my mission, with Chess, to show kids they can have fun without electronics.

  4. Mrs. D. Hunter says:

    very very VERY cool

  5. Terri Dean says:

    Thank you for the story, Evelyn, and thank you to Mr. Rowan and to the Patio Place for making this possible. I just love this town. A great reminder that one person with a good idea can make wonderful things happen.

  6. Sherry Carter says:

    Best thing I’ve heard of happening here in quite a while! Kudos to the Patio Place and Tom Rowan. The first board game I taught my 3 children and the best thing I could have done it turns out. The layers of challenges chess provides a child’s mind benefits them continuously throughout life.

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