Jacob had a huge win today! 1st place from all the 1st graders in a chess tournament! What a very, very, very exciting day for him. It was exciting alone to be invited into the tournament. At Jacob’s school, DVIA, they hired Mr. Ra Ra the Great, a chess teacher to come in and teach an elective class about chess. It was one of the most popular elective classes. This man is a very gifted instructor!!! During first semester Jacob enrolled in RaRa’s Beginning Chess class. Then second semester Jacob was enrolled in his Intermediate Chess class. So once a week, for an hour, he received chess instruction for two semesters. Jacob’s chess skills skyrocketed! It got to the point that when he practiced at home by playing Steve, daddy had to really concentrate to stay in the game. Oftentimes Jacob wanted to play first thing in the morning; Steve smarted up to the idea that he indeed had to have his morning coffee before taking on his 7 year old son, if he wanted any chance of winning. Jacob had learned things like the “4-move Checkmate” and could literally win Steve in four moves. Insane! Steve is still trying to figure out how to defend himself whenever Jacob pulls out that strategy.
Today was the Grand Match Gala- a tournament where specific chess-playing students from 18 different schools in Los Angeles were invited to compete. They set up tables by grade level.
Jacob took his seat at one of the 1st grade tables. When the tournament began he needed to play each of the kids at his table. He played a total of 5 kids, so 5 games. For each one he had the distinct privilege of getting to raise his hand proudly to indicate to the judges that he had checkmated his opponent. 5 checkmates. Wow!
Before the official tournament began, when kids were just waiting at their grade-level tables, they were told they could have a practice game with those sitting across from them at the table. The one boy across from Jacob was a sweet looking 1st grader. I looked away for awhile, was chatting it up with some moms…..and then the next thing I knew…..wow, I looked back at Jacob and this boy and saw that Jacob had a whole bunch of the boys’ pieces were in Jacob’s captured pile. The boy started to lose his smile and seemed to be getting more and more nervous and/or discouraged. I couldn’t tell exactly what emotion the boy was feeling, but it was definitely an “uh-oh, this isn’t going well!” face. This was before the tournament had started so parents were still standing around. I started to take notice that before making every move, the boy would look at someone with eager eyes. As I scanned to my side I noticed it was his dad he kept looking at. His eyes almost seemed to be pleading with his dad “Dad, dad, is this a good move?” or perhaps it was “Dad, dad, help….I don’t know what to do…” or maybe even “Dad, dad, I need your encouragement because I’m getting creamed over here.” Not sure what the exact thoughts were, but based on the intensity of his look and the pleading nature of his eyes, something along these lines could have been the real thought bubbles.
After Jacob played all 5 kids at his table and won each one, he came and sought me out in the restaurant I was sitting in. I couldn’t believe he was already done, so I sought out his chess teacher just to double-check. When Ra Ra the Great, his teacher, checked his clipboard he saw 1’s all the way across Jacob’s row. Only wins. He looked at Jacob and said “You dominated this table!!!” Wow- a wave of ‘feel good’ washed all over Jacob. Words like that from a teacher or coach can have a lifelong impact and today I had the privilege of witnessing the very moment that forever changed my son. “You dominated this table” was received by his ears and were forever lodged into some part of his memory. Such a powerful moment.
Another powerful moment was during the ceremony where each and every kid was called up by name and received a medal on a ribbon to wear around their neck. They were being commended for their bravery in accepting the invitation to attend the tournament and sit face-to-face with an opponent. The chess teachers commended the students saying they were the best-of-the-best of the chess players from their school but they were also VERY brave students. Some students received the invitation to the tournament but choose not to attend because they are afraid of losing. Yet, all of these students who arrived today were willing to meet ‘loss’ in the eye and accept it. When you sit across from someone and it’s just your mental capacity against their mental capacity, that takes A LOT of bravery. So they commended every student for their bravery in taking on that challenge even in the face of possibly losing. One kid they called up ended up receiving two medals- they announced that he had lost every single game he played in the tournament. He did not have a single win. And yet, he continued to play and did not give up. The chess teacher asked everyone- all the students and all the parents to give a round of applause to this boy who did not give up. They have a saying in their chess class: “Your setback sets you up for a comeback.” Yes. Indeed. So today in front of everyone this boy was applauded for not letting his setbacks cause him to get discouraged and to quit. Instead, they encouraged him- saying that it’s all setting him up for a comeback. I got all emotional. That was a beautiful message.
When we first arrived, I asked Mr. Ra Ra “since this is Jacob’s very first tournament, is there anything he should know to be in the right mindset?” I absolutely love what RaRa took the time to tell him. He bent over, looked Jacob in his eyes and said “Jacob, you came here to have fun playing chess. You may win or you may lose. If you lose, just keep your head in the game. If you lose one game, or the first two games or even the first three games, just keep your head in the game. Don’t let yourself give up. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Keep your head in the game and keep trying. Some kids may try the “4-move checkmate”, do you remember how to defend against that?” Jacob responded that yes, he remembered. And then he recounted the defense move to RaRa. “Good, Jacob. So if you see the Queen and Bishop move out, a red flag should go up in your mind and then position yourself to defend. You can do this.” As I stood there studying Jacob’s face and watching him soak up every word of encouragement from Mr. Ra Ra, I could see Jacob growing at ease with each encouraging word. These were words that held their weight in gold. His teacher, a master chess player, was stooped here giving Jacob his undivided attention and filling him up with encouragement. A mama can not ask for more in a situation like this. I am so, so, so thankful that Mr. Ra Ra is not bent on having kids win. Instead, this is a man who teaches the mechanics of chess AND the big life lessons.
“Chess can help define and refine character. A game of chess is a constantly changing battlefield wherein both daring and caution are required, and either may be rewarded or punished. Win or lose, all of these students today will learn about: The value of employing strategy; the need to adjust ones strategy to adapt to unanticipated events; and the need to cultivate personal resilience. Let us wish them all good fortune and good sportsmanship.” (Bobby Crawford, Director of Communications for Chess Tutors)
As they announced on the microphone the 1st, 2nd, 3rd place winners for each grade level, I found myself feeling two things: 1) ohhhhhhh I hope Jacob can experience the fun of winning and 2) losing is also a really important lesson in life. And yet, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to say if all the 1st grade winners were announced and he wasn’t one of them. What do you say to a child in a situation like that? So they began with the 3rd place for Kindergarten. Then 2nd place for Kindergarten. Then 1st place for Kindergarten. The suspense was mounting. But then they announced they were going to skip over 1st grade and come back to it. Okay. So they did 3rd place for 2nd grade- Tensaye Ballard. YAY!!!!!! One of our friends from school. I screamed for joy for her!!!!! 2nd place for 2nd grade- Xavier Ballard!!!! Woohoo!!!!! Then 1st place for 2nd grade- a kid we didn’t know. Then they went on to 3rd grade for each of the places. Finally they came back to 1st grade. There was so much suspense in the air!! 3rd place for 1st grade …..from Farragut Elementary…… 2nd place for 1st grade….from Farragut Elementary……..ohhhhhhhh the suspense was now very, very high. There was only one trophy left to be awarded. Did Jacob have a chance of being the winner? Eeks. I couldn’t read how he was feeling. Was he hopeful? nervous? I couldn’t tell. And then “1st place for 1st grade……from Da Vinci Innovation Academy……and before I even heard Jacob’s name I heard all of our friends SHOUTING, HOOTING, HOLLERING, CLAPPING, YELLING for Jacob…….JAAAAAAAACCCCCCOOOOOBBBBB WALLIS……..oh what a fun moment. That burst of loud excitement and cheer from all of our friends- what a treat to my ears. What very, very sweet friends to make an audible burst of cheer for Jacob. So Jacob got up, walked down the red carpet and then received his 1st place trophy.
And yet through it all he was exercising the newly discussed trait of modesty. In his last homeschooling research assignment, Jacob had read all about the famous baseball player Lou Gehrig. He is described as having been an incredibly modest man despite all of the records he was breaking and holding in the sport. Jacob and I have had discussions, as a result, of the difference of boasting your wins and being modest about them. I was so proud of Jacob as he held his trophy and received the congratulatory remarks from friends- there was no flaunting or boasting on his part. It was sinking in to him- the internal satisfaction feeling.
We left our home this morning at 8am. Didn’t get back until nearly 5:30pm. It was a very, very long and very, very hot day! And yet he never complained about the heat. Just asked for water as he read his body and knew what it needed.
A fabulous day.