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Gifted students place in chess competition

By John Lee

Philadelphia, Union and Neshoba students from the East Central Talented and Gifted Association (ECTAG) put their chess skills to the test and competed against other top-ranked student chess players of the region.

At the competition, which took place last month, these students finished in the top three in several divisions.

These divisions include:

• Division YA, second year (1st place, Union)

• YB Division, second year (2nd place, Neshoba)

• Division IA, fourth year (2nd place, Neshoba)

• IB Division, fourth year (1st place, Union)

• IC Division, third year (1st place, Neshoba)

• Division IIA, sixth year (1st place, Neshoba)

• Division IIB, sixth year (1st place, Union, 3rd place, Philadelphia)

• Division IIC, fifth year (2nd place, Neshoba)

• Division IV, high school (3rd place, Union)

Other participating schools included Union, Forest, Scott Central, Newton County, Morton, Lake, Leake Central, Hawkins Middle and Philadelphia.

Becky Spears, a gifted fourth grade teacher at Neshoba Elementary School, said Neshoba hosted the chess portion of the ECTAG program this year and said all the students were very excited to play, especially the second year students.

“We weren’t able to participate in the chess competition last year due to the pandemic,” Spears said. “We usually hold the competition at our school, but as our building is undergoing renovations, we had to move the competition to Trinity Baptist Church. We had table after table with chessboards and the children were amazed at how many there were. These students are very fond of chess.

Logan Spears, a gifted fifth-grade student at Neshoba Central in Division IIC, said he really appreciated being able to compete because he couldn’t last year.

“This year I played against a student who started his own chess team and competes in chess competitions all over the state,” he said. “I thought it was really cool, and playing this game was definitely a challenge. Overall it was a great day and I’m glad my team took second place.”

The East Central Talented and Gifted Association was formed to give all gifted students in the region the opportunity to participate in various competitions in a healthy learning environment with other gifted students, Spears said.

“This year we had a smaller group,” Spears said. “Each team usually has five students, but we have limited it to three per level this year. We rank these students from first to third place and set them up so that all of our top ranked students play against other top ranked students at the same level so that it’s a level playing field. Sophomores played against sophomores and so on.

She said holding the pageant at Trinity Baptist Church was different because it was off campus and students used to come to the school for it.

“The students were just happy to be able to hold their competition and come together,” Spears said. “Our students are gifted, but they have to face other grades. They may be the best in our schools, but when they go up against the best students in other schools, it’s interesting to see that play out.

Noah Parker, a gifted fourth-year student at Neshoba Central in Division IA, said the toughest part of the competition was the school playoffs to decide the best players.

“When I came to the competition, the players I played against were really good,” Parker said. “In two of my games I equalized at the end of our 30-minute time limit and had to have a 15-minute playoff. It was a tough day, but a good one.”

Katie Goss, a second-to-fourth grade teacher at Union, said her students had worked really hard to prepare and had learned a lot about thinking skills and strategy.

“Participating in the competition has excited my students and pushed them to do better next year,” Goss said. “Some of them watch chess videos at home and consult chess books to read to learn how to do better.”

Katie Monday, a second through sixth grade teacher at Philadelphia Elementary School, supervised Division IIB and said her students’ biggest challenge was learning new strategies.

“They definitely struggled to come up with new strategies for playing chess,” Monday said. “They did well and I’m very proud of all their hard work. I had a student, Talia Cole, who won all of her games and a Chess Master ribbon!”