- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2020

EAST MOLINE, Ill. (AP) - Retired chiropractor, Dr. Tom Ebalo, an avid chess player, often finds himself down at Western Illinois-Quad Cities on Tuesdays with the Leatherneck Chess Club playing chess with high school students and other chess aficionados.

He was happy to be a part of the 20 or so chess players. There was just one thing that did not sit too well with him - he could not identify any United Township High School students on hand.

He saw other Western Big 6 and MAC schools represented, even many various private schools. It really bothered him.

A UT grad, who used to be president of Junior Panther basketball, he decided to do something about it. He met with UTHS District 30 superintendent Jay Morrow, who led him to athletics and activities director Bam Pustelnik, who in turn got him in touch with Dean Abel Zertuche.

He even made an appearance before the school board recently, explaining his plan to create a club team at UT.

“Basically there are a lot of kids who are not athletes, not basketball players or football players, but they are very, very smart kids,” Ebalo explained. “They want to play chess or like chess. It just takes somebody to organize it to say, ‘Hey, there’s a whole chess community out there that’s waiting for you. And it’s all set and ready to go.’

“Basically, I saw the need from the outside chess community and I am trying to take it into UT to organize it,” he explained.

About 30 kids showed up for a quick meeting after school in December. Come February, pending District 30 board approval, UT may have a chess club again.

“It will likely go through,” UT District 30 Superintendent Jay Morrow said. “Just like the bass (fishing) club, I don’t see any huge obstacles to it.”

Ebalo’s plan with the help of club sponsor Zertuche, is to hold practices Mondays after school where strategy and instruction takes place under the watchful eye of Luis Peralta as well as Ebalo.

“He’s going to help me coach every Monday with these kids,” Ebalo said, noting Peralta is the top rated player in the Quad-Cities. “It’s like (Duke University’s legendary) Coach K coming to a basketball practice once a week and helping your team.”

Moves will be practiced; strategy studied and then the club travels to Western’s Moline campus to take part in the Leatherneck Chess Club with other schools, teams and individuals where Ebalo says kids can get in matches at their own level.

After that, it will be time to take part in local tournaments and even duels with other schools.

“We want to get these kids ready for scholastic tournaments that Sterling high school has,” Ebalo said. “Western Illinois has them and other local tournaments that I want to get the kids ready for.”

First, Ebalo will need to raise funds, then get uniform shirts for the team. They will include having their name on the sleeves, he said. Board approval would come in February.

Ebalo even got a UT team in the Spring Scholastic Team Chess Tournament.

Win or lose any match for the Panthers, Ebalo sees the entire thing as a win for the students.

“It’s a great social activity,” he said. “I’ve seen freshman in high school play 50-year old men and it’s a nip and tuck game from start to finish,” Ebalo said. “So age, race, creed, color, means nothing in chess. Chess doesn’t know any bounds. You can be 6’ 5” height and I can’t use it when I played a freshman from PV. It doesn’t mean anything.

“You can sit down and shake hands and introduce yourself and play chess. Then shake hands. You are kind of friends forever.”

The kids see it as a win, too.

Seth Bealer, a sophomore who’s joining the team, has been playing chess for several years.

“I am pretty excited for everything,” he said. “It’s part of the fun to be on a team for UT.”


Source: The (Moline) Dispatch, https://bit.ly/36qp7lS

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