This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
A local nonprofit that’s teaching children to play chess is expanding its reach to the central peninsula.
The nonprofit, Alaska Chess, began as a chess club in the Homer Library after co-founder Colleen Evanco’s son learned to play. Her son, Sebastian, was homeschooled and she wanted to give him the opportunity to play with kids his own age. Two summers ago, she reached out on Facebook and was able to organize a group of kids and parents who wanted to play. Then a formal club at the library was formed.
“We’re hoping to replicate the success here that we had in Homer,” Andy Haas, a defense attorney in Homer and co-founder of Alaska Chess, said.
Haas got involved when he heard about the club at the library, where he is a member of the Friends of the Homer Library organization. Last year, the two brought boards to West Homer Elementary, gave some instruction and now the school has its own club. Haas now has plans to expand into Homer Middle School.
“Teaching (chess) in schools in Homer, I found, is a great way for students to feel smart and happy and allow others to hang out with kids of similar interests,” Haas said. “As a criminal lawyer, I’ve seen a lot of issues in the community with drugs and I see (learning to play chess when you’re young) as a way to prevent that.”
Evanco, who now lives in Soldotna, is planning on spreading the skill of chess to central peninsula schools.
“It seems like there is a demand and we’re excited to provide it,” Evanco said.
The nonprofit formed in April and was founded by Haas, Evanco and Jonathan Singler, a graduate student at Alaska Pacific University and chess expert whose graduate project is to create programs in chess education.
As part of his graduate project, Singler is hoping to make chess accessible and beneficial for children and adults alike.
“One of the most beautiful aspects of chess is that it’s not age dependent,” Singler said. “The nonprofit is focused on kids. It’s important to not simply create an endpoint. Because once most youth graduate 12th grade they put down chess. My goal is to provide a continuation for chess. I want the Alaska community to benefit from this.”
Evanco said that there’s something in chess for everyone.
“I think everybody is a chess player at heart,” Evanco said. “Majority of people I’ve talked to about chess have something spark in them when we talk about it. Majority of us were introduced to it at some point in our lives. … It really takes very little start. It’s not that hard to learn.”
Earlier this summer Alaska Chess hosted a fundraiser at Fireweed Meadows Golf Course in Anchor Point, where they raised money for chess boards to give to schools for students to use.
“My goal is to get so much saturation in school programs, so that we can host (chess) tournaments, even in the villages,” Haas said.
Now, Evanco, Haas and Singler are working on setting up chess events at local coffee shops, and in local schools on the central peninsula.
“There are no head concussions in chess,” Haas said.
“No knee pads either,” Evanco added.