At Pleasant Valley, chess is a school sport

DiLeo leads students into battle on the board

DiLeo leads students into battle on the board

February 27, 2007|by JANET HEIM

KNOXVILLE - It's a competitive game of strategy, but team adviser Mike DiLeo stresses good sportsmanship, as with most sporting events.

The strategy involved in this game, however, requires clever movement of game pieces - on a chess board.

That sentiment is echoed on the T-shirts chess club team members wear. "Play to learn" is on the front, with "Play to win . . . accept a draw . . . show good sportsmanship!" on the back.

"That's important," DiLeo said.

DiLeo lives in Knoxville in southern Washington County and his three children attend Pleasant Valley Elementary School. He became involved four years ago when the school's Quest teacher sent home a flier about starting a student chess club and asking for parent volunteers.

DiLeo stepped up, having played chess since he was a youngster. When the teacher left the school at the end of that school year, DiLeo took over the chess club. His children - Dominic, Vincent and Sierra Smith-DiLeo are on the 14-student team.


Two years ago, DiLeo added a new level of challenge for the students when he discovered that there were chess tournaments around the state. He signed his team up.

This school year, their first two tournaments were at Riderwood Elementary School, north of Towson, on Dec. 2, 2006, and Jan. 20. The Pleasant Valley team finished in first place in the Novice Section at both tournaments.

The tournaments are designed to pair up competitors with similar experience. Each competitor plays his or her opponent in four rounds, with each player given 30 minutes to make their moves, which means games have a one-hour time limit. Players use a game clock to monitor time.

Tournament players are grouped into classifications. An unranked player is somebody new to tournaments, while a ranked player is a more established tournament player who has been successful, DiLeo said.

Players earn points by winning games and lose points when they lose. A novice player is someone whose score is under 500. A reserve player has played previously as a novice, but has earned a higher ranking.

At the December tournament, Bryce King earned the trophy for top unrated Novice player, Dominic Smith-DiLeo placed third, Jonathan Clark finished fourth and Aaron George placed seventh.

Other team members competing included Vincent Smith Di-Leo, who competed in the Reserve section, Justin Henney, Jared Brown, Bronson King, Grant Austin and Corey Gibson.

At January's tournament, four of the players won three of their four games, with Bronson King placing sixth, Bryce King finishing eighth, Dominic Smith-DiLeo earning 12th and Jonathan Clark placing 13th. Vincent Smith-DiLeo played in the Reserve Section and other competitors included Justin Henney, Evan Kerr, Corey Gibson, Aaron George, Jared Brown, Grant Austin and Sierra Smith-DiLeo.

As a reserve player, Vincent Smith-DiLeo plays middle schoolers and up to high school players, even though he's in fifth grade. Squad members Logan Roberts and Nick Pantos have not played in tournaments yet.

On March 3, they'll travel to Towson University for the Maryland Scholastic Team championship.

"I think it's a good opportunity to meet other players, learn other strategies. It helps you become a better player," said Vincent Smith-DiLeo, 10.

"I was surprised because I did better than I expected. The competition was tough, but fun," said Bronson King, 10, who has been in the chess club for three years. "I like tournaments because you get a chance to play against other people."

"I learned the four-move checkmate because a girl did that move on me. I learned to block it," said Jonathan Clark, 10.

DiLeo uses game simulation and hands-on play to teach chess strategy, interrupting other games when he sees a special move during a game. The team meets Tuesdays after school from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

Faced with half of the team moving on to middle school next year, DiLeo has started Chess for Starters at the elementary school, with current chess club members teaching interested first through fourth graders at Pleasant Valley how to play the game. They meet once a month.

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