San Marco chess coach endeavors to teach more than a game

San Marco chess coach endeavors to teach more than a game
HAE’s first team to win the Jacksonville City Chess Championship in 1997: Standing: Aaron Stephens, Chris McCaffery, Madison Cheatwood, Taylor Blackburn, Max Higgs, Michael McCaffrey and Joseph Foote. Kneeling: Stuart Smith, Garrett Foote, Joanna Truett, Beau Cheatwood. Not pictured: Jessica Roberts.
George Foote

George Foote

George Foote of San Marco can’t pinpoint exactly when he started teaching chess after school to students at Hendricks Avenue Elementary, but suffice it to say it has been more than 20 years.

In the intervening years, Foote’s chess club has grown so it now incorporates 90 children at four levels – experienced, kindergarten, grades 1-2, grades 3-5. Both competitive and instructive, it has allowed HAE to take home more than a dozen Jacksonville City Chess Championships and for some students to compete on a national level.

“It wasn’t something I’ve been keeping track of over the years, but we’ve won at least 12, maybe more,” he said. “We’re not trying to be a chess engine. We’re just trying to enrich kids.”

While continuing the chess class at HAE, Foote has expanded his reach in chess over the years to include past programs at Julia Landon College Preparatory School, Stanton College Preparatory School, Beauclerc Elementary, and various homeschool groups, as well as a current program at St. Mark Lutheran Church’s Ark Preschool in San Marco.

Foote is also endeavoring to grow the Jacksonville Chess Club’s scholastic program with club head Kevin Pryor. Foote said he and Pryor are also currently in discussions with School Board Chairman Paula Wright about training teachers at six Jacksonville elementary schools to teach the game and set up a similar program to the one he runs at HAE.

“I’m still working with the school board about opening it up at six schools on the Northside,” said Foote. “I think Paula is interested in the cause and effect (gleaned from the game),” he said.

“It’s like [former World Chess Champion] Emanuel Lasker said, ‘When you find a good move, wait and look for a better one.’ I think that’s advice for life,” Foote continued. “Chess teaches kids to think ahead, such as ‘If I do this what will happen?’ versus ‘This looks like fun. I’ll do it.’”

As a chess “enthusiast” since he was 10, Foote is a long-time certified United State Chess Federation Coach, who is proud to have once lost a game to American-born Hungarian Grandmaster Susan Polgar in 35 moves. He learned the game early from a babysitter who bought him the book, “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.” Later his brother bought him a stone-carved chess set from Mexico, which is one of 20 unique sets he treasures.

Bring Your Own Chess Set Day at HAE with Garland Glasheen, Katherine Cheshire and Betty Leuthold

Bring Your Own Chess Set Day at HAE with
Garland Glasheen, Katherine Cheshire and
Betty Leuthold

Foote started the HAE club so it would be available to his children, Joseph, Garrett, and Regan, and has continued it after they moved on. “It’s good for all kids,” said Foote. “How I got started is that I read some stories about how chess helps kids with concentration, analysis, and sportsmanship. They get better test scores, and, for the kids, they are just playing a game.”

Today he undertakes to make the instruction fun by holding bring-your-own-chess-set days, challenge pyramids, or setting up correspondence competitions with scholastic competitors in California or Japan. His program teaches children the basics of the game, chess notation, the use of chess clocks, and provides opportunities for local interscholastic competition.

“I think it gives the kids an opportunity to do something fun that makes them better in a lot of ways. There’s a broad spectrum in Chess Club. Some kids don’t want to compete because it scares them, and I’m happy if someone wants to just come and play and be social with their friends, but I also want to give the opportunity to someone who wants to be a competitor,” he said. “Going to the National Tournament is a great experience. You walk into a ballroom and there are 2,000 kids. You can hear a pin drop. They are all serious, and you can hear them concentrating.”

Also important is teaching children to win and lose graciously, he said. “You learn more from a loss than you do from a victory, typically,” Foote said, noting his coaching philosophy is to accentuate the positive. “I try to shift the kids around so they always play at the edge of their limit. I don’t want someone to win all the time or get beat all the time. I want them all to grow.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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