This year’s Teacher of the Year winner, Joe Walters of Pasadena, CA, learned go in the Navy. That is, he learned about go. “A buddy and I tried it and wound up bewildered, with two walls across the middle of the board,” Walters said. “I didn’t really start to understand go until the Ishi Press books began to appear in the 1970’s.” Walters’ current rank is about 8K. Each year the American Go Foundation selects an outstanding go organizer as Teacher of the Year (TOTY). The recipient receives an all-expenses paid trip to the US Go Congress, where the TOTY leads a discussion among fellow organizers, sharing strategies and learning from each other. After his stint in the Navy, Walters returned to civilian life and joined the staff of the Reiyukai (Spiritual Friendship Society), a lay Buddhist association. He suggested organizing a go club at the Center to attract visitors and promote interest, and the Go-For-Yu Club was born. Later, after a stint as the Director of the Reiyukai in the Philippines, he returned to Pasadena and founded the Yu-Go Club. “Jimmy Cha was a big help in the early days, along with Richard Dolen, Gun Ho Choi, and Bob Terry. Then when Yi-lun Yang came to town, things really started to take off.”
Four years ago, when Walters retired, he decided to use some of his newfound freedom to start a go program at his grandson’s elementary school. Before long, about 150 of the school’s 400 students were involved – ironically, his grandson was not among them. Starting with brief presentations during recess, the program soon moved to the lunchroom. “Most of the kids were finishing lunch in 15 minutes or so. The cafeteria doubles as the auditorium, so we set up go equipment on the stage. Being so visible, other kids wanted to play, and so it grew.” Each participant gets an index card marked with a Pokemon character of their choice, to record contact info, game results and so on. Setting up the program, Walters relied heavily on the Assistant Principal, who last year became principal of a nearby school. Walters expanded his activities to that school, teaching and operating the program two days a week during lunch at each site. “The noise in the lunchroom makes it hard to teach, but we can’t meet privately because students cannot be alone; a teacher must be physically present at all times,” Walters said. The principals of the two schools are good friends and maintain a friendly rivalry between their schools, so when Walters proposed an intramural tournament last year, they jumped at the chance and even provided a traveling trophy. Four players from each lunchtime group – first/second grade, third/fourth and fifth/sixth – met in a two-round playoff last year, but a few no-shows marred the result. This year, all interested players will participate. Walters ran the event with the help of local players Jeff McClellan and Reese. This year they will offer lessons to the parents, ending with parent-child games for all who will participate. Next, Walters hopes to teach participants in a local senior center and perhaps arrange for some of his students to meet and play with the seniors. He also enjoys teaching beginners on KGS and can often be found in the Beginner’s Room as “Jodageezer”. “Go is such a great way to connect all different kinds of people,” he says.
– reprinted from Sensei: The American Go Foundation Newsletter