“In Glen Dale, West Virginia, an unlikely new program has attained a huge following at John Marshall High School: Go Club. With a membership of nearly 100 students, the club has grown by massive leaps and bounds in a way that no one thought possible. Go Club started two years ago with a handful of students in my study hall,” writes school teacher David Will. ”I had brought a board and a book of go problems with me to study hall one day to give me something to do while my students worked on homework. Three students approached my desk and inquired about the game, something that they had never seen before. Two of those students would go on to important roles in the club. In years past, I have always taken two or three days to teach the basics of go to my World History classes to close the chapter on ancient Chinese history. For the rest of the year, many of the students would play the game, but it had not gone beyond a diversion for after the completion of worksheets and tests. Now, I had an interesting opportunity. These students and I played go daily for months, honing their skills to where they were competition for me, and one even finally defeated me.
“Partway through the year, our principal, Corey Murphy, decided to utilize the longer homeroom that our unique schedule has on Wednesdays for the purpose of an activity period, encouraging students to join everything from anti-bullying programs to Students Against Destructive Decisions. There are also many entertaining groups such as Euchre Club, and even a group devoted to Hacky-Sack. The idea was that every student could theoretically find a place to belong and engage in healthy social development with other students that they may not have realized share the same interests. My study hall students and I decided that what John Marshall High School needed was simple: Go Club. We proposed the idea, and it was quickly accepted. We started at first with a handful of 13×13 boards generously provided years before by the AGF when I had first tried to introduce the game under a previous administration. Students who had played the game in my class immediately signed up to return to the game they had loved before. Go had an initial following almost immediately of around 40 people. They shared the AGF equipment, but it was difficult. I asked Mr. Murphy if he could match my faculty senate funds once to get us started. He generously agreed, and with $400 dollars in hand, we purchased eleven full-sized boards from Yellow Mountain Imports and got our club officially off the ground. The club continued to grow over the course of the year, with curious students coming through wishing to learn the game their friends were talking about.
“When the idea of continuing the activity period in the following year came up, I was one of many who realized its wonderful value and pushed for it to continue. I was shocked beyond measure when nearly 100 students signed up for club the following year. With only enough equipment for last year’s group, and many students playing on 13×13 boards, we knew that we had an interesting road ahead of us. To manage a group of that size, and make sure that they were adequately instructed, I knew that I would need help. I formed a group of student instructors for Go Club from my nine most proficient students. I call them my Sempais. Japanese for upperclassman/mentor it seemed very appropriate to borrow the term for usage by these students. Now, their classmates refer to them as Sempai even in the hallways. Something developed with my Sempai Class that I didn’t expect. Their passion for the game allowed them to become a Board of Directors for Go Club with myself serving as chairman and Sensei. My Sempais, in their Directorship roles, hold meetings on the weeks when they are not holding activity period to engage in their own private study, the playing of their own games, and discussing the business of the Club itself, in matters such as fundraisers and the pursuit of more equipment. One of our decisions as a club was to join the American Go Association on the Chapter level. That was the point that we decided to approach the American Go Foundation. Remembering that we once received the Club Starter set from the AGF, we applied for a matching grant. Once more, I had two hundred dollars of school funding at my disposal. My Sempais and I, communicating through texts and Facebook correspondence, worked out a list of what we needed, and read my grant proposal before it was sent. Through the generosity of the AGF, they matched our grant and provided a complete set of the Hikaru no Go manga for our school library, which will be proudly displayed. My Sempais gladly volunteered to chip in and cover the shipping for all of our materials from their own pockets.
“We are very proud of our little Club here. Go has reached out to students who otherwise might not have had a place to belong. Twice a month, 50 students (for space reasons, we divided into two groups) meet and play go. In the meantime, many of the students come through my room in their free time to play, even on their lunch periods and during their study halls, as well as playing on the Internet and even at each other’s houses. Go has become a unifying force in the lives of many students, and has truly engaged them on an academic level. This ancient game of strategy forces them to think outside of the box and look for their own answers to problems and dilemmas, rather than relying on something they can quickly look up online. The critical thinking that go promotes is essential to their futures and I believe will help them when they get to college. Furthermore, it has taught them tolerance. Go has united students of different economic and religious backgrounds, and has resulted in friendships that have broken down the walls of high school cliques. What’s next for northern West Virginia’s rapidly growing Go Club? Many of the students are hoping to test their new skills in tournament play, whether online, in person, or maybe even one day hosting a small tournament at the school. For these students, who have been taught by Go to look many moves ahead, the sky’s the limit.” -by David Will, of John Marshall High. Photos: Top: Sempai Group, from left to right: Back Row: Noah Hill, Dylan Woods, Zach Conner, Jacob Fast, Neal Fatheringham, Chase Pelaez, Nash Burke. Front Row: Sabrina Jones, Heather Smith. Bottom Photo: The library is taken over by Go Club at John Marshall High. All photos by David Will.