Beaufort-area students from three schools claimed six of eight first-place awards in the elementary division of this year's state chess championships in Columbia.
"By the time they get to high school, if these kids still love chess the way they love chess now, it could be a dynasty," said Darrin Rogers, who coached Beaufort Academy's eight-member team to a state title.
"I want to walk into a tournament, and when everyone sees Beaufort Academy, they drop their heads."
Students from Whale Branch Elementary School and Riverview Charter School also captured individual titles given for grades kindergarten through five in the elementary division. The division included nearly 80 students representing 30 schools, Rogers said.
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Riverview Charter School fifth-grader Chris Hoogenboom claimed the division's overall title by winning all five of his matches March 5 in Columbia.
He said he was a bit nervous but let himself have fun playing the game he loves.
"You just play your best and hope for the best," Hoogenboom said.
His mother, Cathy, said he first showed interest in chess as a toddler, when he occasionally knocked down or moved pieces on his grandfather's chess board. That led his grandfather to buy Hoogenboom a board of his own.
Now, he practices weekly with Riverview's chess team and plays with family and online.
Rogers said the Beaufort Academy team practices once a week after school and competed in weekend tournaments to prepare for the state meet. Many of the tournaments are in Georgia because few are offered in South Carolina, he said.
The game teaches young children how to handle pressure and the value of perseverance, said Rogers, who also works as a corrections officer at the Beaufort County Detention Center.
"Chess, to me, is like life," he said. "You have ups and downs. Sometimes you are ahead and sometimes you are behind. Chess teaches you not to panic if you're behind."
For example, students learn a steady focus can help them win a game, even if they lose their queen early.
"You've got to be stable enough to right the ship," Rogers said.
Don Doggett, principal of Whale Branch Elementary, who is seeking someone to coach a chess team at his school, agrees chess can teach young children life skills. It can be an effective means to develop discipline and cognitive skills and help them see that decisions have consequences, he said.
"They have to think three or four, and sometimes five or six, moves ahead," he said. "You begin to become patient and think things through all the way to the end."