Teacher passes on chess tradition to students

DECATUR, Ill. (WAND)-- One elementary school is keeping chess alive on the south side.

That is the slogan for South Shore's Elementary School's Chess Club. Behind that club is a very dedicated coach. Josh Fazekas is a social worker at the school, but he decided to pass on his love for the game. 

"Chess has always been a part of my life where it's like an identity. It's my identity," he said. "I always had chess at the low times, the high times, at times I just wanted to get away and relax."

Fazekas started the program last year with a small group of kids, but the more trophy’s the club brought back, the more interest sparked about the Chess Club. Now the club is up to nearly 30 students.

The Principal, Mr. Conn, says this club is more than just a pastime for these students,

"Some of them just needed somebody to talk to," he said. "Some of them had some mild behavioral issues. Some of them just wanted to play chess."

Now, the team is actually making noise in the chess world, and in May is headed to the National Tournament in Nashville, Tenn. Mr. Fazekas and his wife donate time taking the students to different tournaments across the state. 

One parent says the game of chess taught her daughter life lessons. 

"Mr. Conn literally called me almost everyday or twice a week about her behavior," they said. "This year I haven't had a phone call. Due to chess because it gave her self discipline to look and listen first then react."

Even though the students look sweet, they are playing to win. 

“I know all of these kids. I knew them before they started playing chess, and to watch them not only grow but transition into almost different people when they sit down at the chess board," Fazekas said. "It's a game of strategy but believe me they want to beat you."

That's why Josh Fazekas is this week's Spirit of Central Illinois winner.

Anyone interested in following the Chess Club's journey you can on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/southshoreschessclub/.

Anyone with an idea for a nomination for the Spirit of Central Illinois award can email jacklynn.boatman@wandtv.com.