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Valley Journals

Midvale Middle wins seventh consecutive district chess title

Mar 30, 2017 11:23AM ● By Julie Slama

Midvale Middle School students took first place in the school district chess tournament for the seventh year straight. (Mark Snaufer/Midvale Middle School parent)

By Julie Slama   |  Julie@mycityjournals.com

For seven straight years, Midvale Middle School has been named Canyons School District intramural chess champions.

“We looked for consistently strong players to compete as our team,” said Richard Foiles, who has coached the team for all the district titles. “Our top four players have great experience as eighth-graders and we’re looking at our two returning players to be leaders for our team next year.”

The Midvale team clinched the title by capturing five of the six boards to beat Mt. Jordan, who is the only other school to win the intramural district chess title in its inaugural year.

The team includes eighth-grader Alex Qi, who won the first board; eighth-grader Ilha Hwang, who took the second board; eighth-grader Wentao Zhang, who finished first on the third board; eighth-grader Yash Ghanathe, with a win on the fourth board; and sixth-grader Eric Snaufer, who championed the sixth board. Seventh-grader Kevin Suhaka completes the team that competed on Feb. 26.

The team was lead by eighth-grader Alex, who was introduced to chess when he was a second-grader.

“I went to a tournament that year and placed second, so I guess I had ‘potential,’” he said. “I found a coach and started playing twice per week. I enjoy it and getting first helps motivate me to want to play more.”

Alex, who won the elementary state title in third, fourth and fifth grades and the junior high title last year, said that motivation also means learning strategies from reading books and playing online. After winning the district title, he was preparing for the junior high tournament March 3-4 as well as nurturing younger players.

“I’ll play with others. If someone asks for help, I’ll help them,” he said.

Since October, about 25 students have joined the chess club, learning from one another and playing. Some students had been part of their elementary school teams while others just played for fun.

“These kids are having fun, enjoying playing each other. It’s an outlet for those who like to play and for those who want to get better. It’s an opportunity for them to have a social setting and do something they enjoy,” Foiles said.

However, for others, they thrive on tournament play.

“Some of these kids aren’t athletes, but they’re more academic and excel in math and science. These kids thrive on the intensity of chess and need to have pressure to be successful. They won’t necessarily experience the pressure of shooting a free throw in basketball, but when you put a (chess) board in front of them and they’re figuring out strategies and thinking two, three, four moves ahead to capture a piece, they’re in their element,” he said.

Foiles, who teaches math at the school, said strong math skills help these players.

“They’re looking at patterns in their strategies. Often our top chess players are some of our best math students in school,” he said.

Wentao began playing chess at Alta View Elementary as a first-grader. He has placed in the top three places in several state tournaments.

“It’s challenging and fun at the same time,” he said. “I learned a lot from my brother, Winston. We made up the Sunrise Elementary chess team and actually earned trophies.”

Foiles said that he has had several siblings play for him through the years.

Canyons School District introduced its intramural program in 2010 with cross country, 3-on-3 basketball and ultimate Frisbee. Chess, with each middle school being represented by its top six players, was introduced the next year.

“The program began to give kids a chance to compete and where everyone is welcome. Chess gives students something competitive that’s more academic than athletic,” Foiles said.

As Midvale Middle is scheduled to move into its new building in the fall, Foiles hopes to continue recruiting good chess players.

“I’ll have to ask for a display case for all our trophies at our new school so we can attract new players,” he said.