Jack McDougall's parents have found him on a few occasions playing chess against himself at 2 a.m.
The 6-year-old Beaufort Academy student has taken quite an interest in the game over the past year. His mother, Shawn McDougall, said her son would play all day if she let him.
Jack became interested in the game of strategy through a program at E.C. Montessori & Grade School last year. When Shawn's friend told her about a chess club at Beaufort Academy, she quickly signed up Jack. Now he practices after school every Wednesday. He also takes private lessons with the school's chess coach once a week.
The practice seems to be paying off. Jack and one of his teammates, 5-year-old Kendra Rogers, recently brought home a trophy that's almost as tall as they are. The two kindergartners competed as a team and won fourth place for their grade level at the United States Chess Federation's 2010 National K-12 Championships. The win made them the first elementary team from South Carolina to place nationally.
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"They were really excited when (event organizers) called out Beaufort Academy," coach Darrin Rogers said of his players when they found out they placed at the championships. Rogers said there were 1,100 children competing in the event.
Rogers took Kendra, his daughter; his son, second-grader Kevin; and Jack to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for the competition, which took place Dec. 10-12. Jack and Kendra competed against nine other kindergarten teams, and Kevin competed as an individual against about 300 other second-graders.
Jack's mother gives Rogers most of the credit for the students' success.
"He's a fantastic coach, an incredible asset to Beaufort Academy and our community as a whole," McDougall said. "He's made chess fun for the kids."
Rogers said he organized the club in 2008 after a few parents approached him. They heard he taught his son to play and wanted their children to learn the game, too. He started tutoring a couple of kids after school, and word quickly spread.
Since then, club members have competed in about 40 tournaments. They have placed in more than 30 as a team. The club is open to Beaufort Academy students between the 3-year-old preschool level and eighth grade, but Rogers said the 10 students who attend meetings are in fifth grade or younger.
The students meet for an hour and a half after school every Wednesday. During that time Rogers teaches them new chess moves and they discuss past games. They all play the game. But Rogers said he also gives the kids a chance to get away from the chess board and play outside, too.
"I try to keep it fun for the kids," he said. "They're learning, but at the same time they're having fun so I think that's why the club is doing so well."
While the kids seem to love the fun they have at club meetings, McDougall said little Jack enjoys being able to take on bigger opponents. His mother said he beat his grandfather in a game over the summer and then his great-uncle twice over the holidays.
"He's not quite the chess prodigy yet," McDougall said about her young son. "But he's getting better and better."
McDougall said besides being able to show his family members new moves, Jack has benefited in other ways from playing chess. She said it has helped his thinking and reasoning skills. He's now able to think three moves ahead in the game. He's also able to think through everyday problems.
"It's been very fascinating for us to watch him start to think through different possibilities and different answers for things," she said. "I think, academically, this is only going to benefit him in the long run."