As I have spent the year getting back into chess, I think back on the other times in my life where I played chess. One of those times was in high school as part of the chess club… that didn’t play chess.

The (Not) Chess Club

Chess Club 1994

My high school had a chess club. I was a member of the club for 3 years. As you can see in this picture, the club my first year had about 70 members. If I had to guess, I’d say about 25% of them knew how to play chess. I say “guess” because in this chess club we never played chess. In all three years, I only ever remember getting out a chess board one time. I think that was just to make our advisor happy.

Each club needed a faculty advisor. Our advisor was the shop teacher. He was fair and kind, but also strict. I wonder now if he was disappointed that he never got to play chess, because if I was a teacher now and got to be the advisor for the chess club, I’d want to play every week with the students. On the other hand, maybe he was perfectly happy just letting us do our own thing without causing him any trouble.

Instead of playing chess, it was mostly a place for my friends and I to hang out. Even though there were all these people in the picture, there was only a core group that ever actually met. Even then, we only ever met a few times, maybe once a month at the most. The chess club was just one more excuse for our group of friends get together.

Working The System

Chess Club 1995

To understand one of the real purposes of the chess club, you need to know a bit about our yearbook. In my high school, all the photos for the yearbook were taken the same day. It was the goal of some kids to get in as many pictures as possible, even if they were not in the club. If you were getting your picture taken that day, then you were not in class. It was a fun game at the end of the year to find out how many pictures you were in when the yearbooks were published.

My friends and I realized that there were a certain number of people who would try to get into our chess club picture with no intention of ever being a part of the chess club. No offense to anyone who had a good experience in their high school chess club, but ours was something of a nerdy joke. Looking back, I wish we actually played chess, but I can’t change that now. Sneaking into the chess club picture was something of a funny prank to most people.

Enter the master plan. We figured if being in the picture was something people were trying to do, we would let them… as long as they were members of the club. To be a member, you just needed to pay dues, which I think were $5 back then. We somehow convinced our advisor to go along with our plan, which was let everyone into the picture, as long as they paid their club dues. He was fine with that. When it was time for the picture, he told everyone of the expectation, and then wrote down everyone’s name who stayed for the picture. Over the next few weeks he went and made sure everyone in the picture had paid their membership dues. I think there was a risk of not getting your report card if you had outstanding fees, like club dues or library fines.

Basically we had people pay their $5 to have their picture taken.

The Ski Trip

Chess Club 1996

By my last year of high school, the chess club had a few hundred dollars that we collected from these photobombers. Somehow most of the money ended up being cash in an old pencil box in the bottom of my locker. If anyone knew I had hundreds of dollars in my locker, I think there would have been some questions. I can’t imagine that happening today, allowing students to manage the funds for a club. I feel like that should be run through the school. Simpler times I guess?

Since you can’t take it with you, we decided to organize a “chess club social event.” This event happened to be a ski trip. Now, this was in Wisconsin, which is not known for its mountains, but there was a hill about 30 minutes from our school. We invited anyone in the club to come, but it really just ended up being a small group of my friends. The club had enough money to pay for the skiing and food, which I somehow remember as being sub sandwiches.

Now that I am an adult improver, I wish I played chess in high school. But, at least I had this good experience with the chess club.