On a crowded Sunday evening at Klyde Warren Park, curious passersby pause to watch. Some sit down, perhaps a bit intimidated but eager to learn. Others marvel at the two combatants’ level of focus and quiet intensity amid the whirlwind of activity around them.
They are members of the Fighting Scots Chess Club at Highland Park High School, who are trying to earn community service hours while spreading their knowledge and passion of the game through a series of free weekly sessions at the park.
“We play chess with anybody who comes by and wants to play with us,” said Austin Mead, who will be a junior at HPHS this fall. “We get to teach them the game. That’s part of the fun of it.”
The HPHS students will be at the park, weather permitting, for two hours each Sunday evening through Aug. 9. The outdoor sessions have attracted aspiring chess players from different skill levels comprising a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds.
The idea was the brainchild of Neil Krasnoff, who joined the library staff at HPHS last year and made launching the chess club a top priority upon his arrival. He has made similar efforts at other schools.
“I put out the chess boards in the library and see who shows up,” Krasnoff said. “All of a sudden, they’re all coming out of the woodwork.”
The burgeoning club has about six regular members now, but Krasnoff expects it to grow in the fall. It typically meets a couple of days each week after school.
Mead played chess competitively for many years before joining the club at HPHS. So did Josh Kowal, who led the Scots to a fifth-place finish among high school teams at the Texas Chess Association state tournament in March in McAllen.
“I’ve found that chess has really helped in my life,” Kowal said. “I’m able to apply things from chess in sports and school and even my social life.”
For club members, the Sunday sessions blur the line between student and teacher. And in many cases, that means changing their typical strategy to make the game fun for a novice opponent.
“There’s a lot of people who want to learn,” Mead said. “We can talk them through some of the basic stuff, and then they can go home and practice with their family and friends.”