Martin Middle School students learn lessons on the chess board while club dominates in second year

Like most kids, the students who work with David Adkins at Martin Middle School, 200 N. 28th St., enjoy games. But the games they play don’t involve rapid hand-eye coordination, smartphones or exploding zombies but rather 32 game pieces, an 8-by-8, two-toned grid and a lot of planning ahead and concentration.

Chess, a 1,500-year-old game, still beguiles with its combination of simplicity and complexity. The Chess Club at the school is in only its second year, but it is already making a name for itself in the state.

“The first year, we came in fourth in the state,” Adkins said. “This year, we came in second. There are about 40 schools that participate, but most of them are parochial or other private schools that have a large budget for clubs. We have no budget.”

The club raises money to attend competitions with fundraisers, such as selling snacks during the breaks during finals. Adkins and other staff members fronted the money the club used to get off the ground, including purchasing its first sets.

“We had to get all of our kids United States Chess Federation-certified to compete. Our kids are all ranked between 900 and 1,300. Grandmasters are ranked around 26,000 to 27,000,” Adkins said. “The ones that stick with it all year steadily improve. During one of the competitions this year, one of our students won all five of his matches.”

Although the school is an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme magnet school, about half the students are from the surrounding neighborhood, which Adkins describes as a poor, multicultural neighborhood.

“The chess club has attracted many of our neighborhood, low-academic achieving students,” Adkins said. “I like watching a kid who has never played before, and I like to see that spark. You can see when they’re getting hooked on it.”

Many of the students who participate in the club were unfamiliar with the game before coming to the school. Now they have mastered it well enough that sometimes they can beat Adkins, their mentor.

“The first time I can remember playing, I was about 4 or 5 years old,” said club member Julianne Garrett. “I like everything about it. I like the strategy. I feel like chess is a metaphor for life. One wrong move can mess up everything.”

Adkins has been a special education teacher at the school for three years. He started the chess club at the suggestion of an administrator. He became interested in chess during his 20 years in the Air Force.

“I played when I was deployed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and places like that,” Adkins said. “We had to work for 12 hours, and there was not a lot to do, but there were always portable chess sets with magnetic pieces around, so we started playing.”

He hopes that four or five of the students in the club will participate in the International Youth Championship June 25-27 at the Westgate, 3000 Paradise Road.

“We’re going to try to cover the cost for them,” Adkins said. “They’re really excited about the championship, and we want them to succeed. They’ve worked hard to get this good.”

To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email or call 702-380-4532.

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