Monday, January 08, 2007

Can't we all just get along?

I just love this story about feuding chess parents in Gilbert, Arizona. It makes USCF politics seem tame.
During the Arizona Scholastic State Chess Championship last April at Gilbert High School, feuding Gilbert parents argued about everything from the display of banners to the proper place to eat snacks.

"The bickering has gone on so long," said Jill McKeever, a Finley Farms Elementary School chess mom, former association president and chess coach at Islands Elementary School. "It's gotten to this point now where we almost can't talk to each other."
What are they arguing about? Believe it or not, philosophy. Should scholastic chess emphasize fun and participation or winning?
"The philosophies of the organizations were always so different," said Christy Veit, a chess mom at Canyon Rim Elementary School. "They didn't get where we were coming from, and we didn't get where they were coming from."

The Burk club, which has won four consecutive state championships, trains with its own coach and focuses on winning. Other Gilbert schools take a more casual approach to chess.

Their coaches juggle eight or more clubs at the same time and root for all their players to do well at tournaments — even when the teams compete against each other. That has never made sense to the Burk parents.

"We don't see football, baseball or basketball coaches floating across schools in this district coaching at multiple schools," former Burk parent Lisa Haisley wrote in an e-mail. "I don’t think chess should either."
But now there are accusations of vote rigging and hostile takeovers.
Some chess parents say Burk families flooded the meeting. When they realized they didn't have enough votes to win, they stepped outside and called more friends on their cell phones.

Maneth, who earned a board position that night and now serves as president, said allegations that Burk staged a hostile takeover are false. He said Burk parents won the election because they offered the best vision for the future of Gilbert chess....

In the end, Burk parents emerged with control of the association they had previously shunned. And parents who had spent years building the association suddenly wanted nothing to do with it. The Gilbert chess world had turned upside down.
And who might you guess finds himself in the middle of this mess?
Many parents now take their children to tournaments organized by a rival group called SMARTChess. McKeever and three other Gilbert chess coaches started the nonprofit organization this summer.

One SMARTChess founder is Robert Tanner, the Gilbert coach who resigned this month from the U.S. Chess Federation executive board following an ethics reprimand. Tanner was disciplined in November following allegations that he manipulated tournament results in the early 1990s to boost his chess rating.
I can think of several directions this discussion might take. Here are a few questions you might want to ponder and comment on:
  1. Should scholastic chess be casual or highly competitive?
  2. Is parental involvement in organizing scholastic events a good thing? In the Boston area many scholastic events are organized by clubs (like the BCC) and independent organizers (e.g., Gus Gosselin).
  3. What do you think about limiting coaches to working at only one school? Seems to me they find it hard enough to make a living working at several.
  4. What's with Robert Tanner and controversy? I'd never heard of this guy until a few weeks ago and now suddenly he's everywhere.
In a related note - At the Herb Healy, Harold Dondis mentioned that he had heard that Gus Gosselin was very ill. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery.

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