When a former child prodigy is impressed, you know it's a strong team.
Coach Jay Stallings, who won multiple state championships himself in the 1970s, led Palm Crest Elementary's chess team to statewide wins earlier this month at the Super States Scholastic Championship. The second and third grade team took first place and in the indivdual category, teammate Kevin [parents asked that last names not be used] earned 10th place for an individual. As for kindergarten and first grade, 7-year-old Riley won 10th place, while he helped his team place fifth.
"It's an intellectual challenge for them - a chance for them to sit across from their friends and match wits,'' said Stallings, director of the non-profit California Youth Chess League, which comprises 700 students in 19 schools. PCR is the League's only La Cañada school.
PCR's chess club meets after school once a week. The students practice strategic moves and learn how to play with the clock. Stallings, who's been coaching since 1994, also projects lessons onto a screen.
Third grader Kyle thinks it's cool that his team won, but for this 9-year-old, it's mostly about picking up the skills to defeat his older brother, also on the PCR team.
"I like learning the different moves, and seeing what other kids do, but sometimes they just stare off into space,'' Kyle said.
Although Kyle won and lost three matches, Stallings said the points he garnered qualified him as "elite,'' according to the United States Chess Federation.
Riley, who earned 10th place on his own, said the key to winning is being cool.
"I just don't rush,'' said the first grader, clutching his trophy and sporting sunglasses and a green hat. "I've been playing since I was 3.''
Stallings didn't even blink.
The team's next competition is Saturday, May 14th.