Beaufort Academy chess team checkmates competition

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comApril 6, 2014 

Whit Suber stared across the table at his opponent, a battleground of kings, queens and knights between them.

Each contemplated their next move, but Suber was pretty sure he had the advantage.

It wasn't just the board or their strategies that separated the two -- their height and age did that, as well. His rival's feet were flat on the floor; Suber's dangled from his chair. His rival was a senior in high school; Suber is in second grade.

Nonetheless, Suber won.

The second-grader is a member of the Beaufort Academy chess team that has dominated tournaments -- against elementary, middle and high school students -- in recent years. The team also took home its sixth consecutive state S.C. Independent School Association title in March.

"We may be one of the best teams out there," Suber said. "But we are also one of the funniest."

"And the smallest and youngest," fifth-grade teammate Kevin Rogers chimed in. Rogers is the team's oldest player and is the fifth-grade state champion.

Also on the team are third-graders Jack McDougall, George "G." Simmons and Kendra Rogers, Kevin's younger sister.

Although only in elementary school, the students have been playing for several years -- many of them since pre-kindergarten or kindergarten, according to coach Darrin Rogers, who also is Kevin and Kendra's father.

Darrin Rogers started the team in 2008, and it won a state title the next year. The squad has "been on a roll since," he said.

"I love when that light comes on and the kids just get it, and all the tactics I've been teaching them make sense," he added. "They have a really good attitude toward playing and toward losing, too -- though, they don't lose much."

Each player has developed a style.

Suber, for example, likes to fill the center of the board. Simmons plays strong defense.

Each player has a favorite chess piece, too. The boys seem to favor the knights, while Kendra fancies the queen.

They get a little nervous when they go to tournaments, but only a little. They mostly just go out, "do what they do" and have fun, McDougall said.

Darrin Rogers said he tries to change things up at practices and teach the students new strategies to keep chess fun. He makes a "game out of the game" and constantly challenges them.

For example, the students enjoy playing "lightning chess," in which they have only five seconds for each move. And they especially love to test their skills against older students.

What they learn in chess also rolls over to their other classes, Kevin Rogers said. The math and concentration required to be good at chess help them as students, they said.

The team will travel to Atlanta at the end of April to compete in the National Junior High Championship. They will be the youngest ones there, but Darrin Rogers thinks the team has the talent to place.

But the most important thing is having fun and enjoying the game, the kids said.

"I try to make it fun for them because I don't want to make chess a job they have to do," Darrin Rogers said. "It's a game and they're kids and they love it, and that's what is most important."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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