In Portland, OR, there are now over 100 children in chess and go programs, spread over five schools, and organized by Peter Freedman and Fritz Balwit. Freedman teaches go and Balwit teaches chess in most schools. “We decided to leverage our long-running chess and go program at Irvington Elementary,” Freedman told the Journal, “I approached several school chess coaches about the idea of morphing their chess clubs into chess and go clubs. The Richmond club got off to a rousing start in November, with 41 children, 1st-5th grades, coming to the first meeting. Limited to 40, we were oversubscribed, with parents coming to the meeting with checks hoping there was still room to enroll their children. It was the best response ever to a new chess and go club, and confirms our view that ‘the way to a new go player’s heart is through chess.’ While Richmond is a Japanese language magnet school, where go is more familiar than the average school, a great many of these children did play chess, or want to, but had never heard of go,” said Freedman. Parents are enthusiastic too, with one writing in to say:”just wanted to let you know Ben had a great time today. He had said earlier that he didn’t want to learn go, but after one lesson, he is begging me to buy him a go board. I will sign him up for the rest of the year and will put a check in the mail tomorrow.”
For several years Freedman and Balwit had tried to establish go clubs in schools, but they were short-lived and drew minimal numbers. Meanwhile, Irvington chess and go club had run for many years, with upwards of 30 students every term. “It is quite clear to me that chess and go clubs have a much better chance to introduce children and teens to go than free-standing go clubs,” says Freedman. “John Goon has a similar approach in Maryland. There is a segment of our culture that knows, appreciates and respects chess, while only a few know of go. Yet, many of us were chess players before we were go players. It seems like a nice path. We need a new motto: chess is our friend, not our enemy.”
In addition to the Irvington and Richmond programs, Freedman reports that several other schools are picking up the model. The Grant High School chess club morphed into a chess and go club this year, with about 12 students. Beverly Cleary elementary school did as well, with Freedman teaching go and long time chess coach Brad Kerstetter continuing his work. Freedman also envisions that his model should be economically sustainable, is actively pursuing this: “At Irvington and Richmond we charge $75/term, or $150 for the year, per child, for a one hour/week club meeting. In Irvington, Beverly Clearly, and Richmond we divide the group in two. For the first month half of the kids play go, half play chess. The second month, they switch. After that they choose: chess only, go only, or, chess and go. If they choose chess and go, they play one game for 4 weeks, and then switch each four weeks until the end of school,” reports Freedman.
“Needless to say, the starter kits and technical support we get from the AGF are an important part of our success,” notes Freedman, “we order and pay shipping for a Hikaru no Go manga set at each school where we teach as well.” Freedman and Balwitz have put together curriculum guides and outlines for their method, which can be downloaded on the AGA Teaching Page. Free equipment, Hikaru no Go, and other resources are available on the AGF website. -Paul Barchilon, E-J Youth Editor. Photo from the Irvington Elementary School Yearbook (click on image to view it at full size).