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Chess at Mark Day School

Chess at Mark Day School
Sophie Shulman

In October 1980, the third month that Mark Day School was open, former P.E. teacher and athletic director Ray Orwig was walking toward the front office when he noticed two 7th grade students playing chess in one of the classrooms. An avid chess player himself, Ray asked the students if they had other friends who also played. After an assembly announcement a couple days later, the first Mark Day School chess team was born.

They began by meeting at lunch, and in January 1981, they established the first-ever school-wide chess tournament. Of the 146 students at the school at the time, 50 joined the tournament. Today, close to 200 students participate in the tournament each year.

What started as happenstance has grown into a significant part of Mark Day School culture—an unexpected but wonderful result. “On that day in October 1980, I didn’t think ‘this is going to be big!’” Mr. Orwig recalls. “I just wanted to give some kids the opportunity to play a game they enjoyed. In those early days, we never thought about a team or tournaments. That didn’t come for a couple of years. That’s generally how great things start—by just having fun.”

The game of chess is a great thinking game, teaching students patience, reflection, and decision-making—especially “learning to live with those decisions once you’ve made them, since you can’t take a move back,” says Mr. Orwig. For many, chess is a meaningful part of their Mark Day School experience. It is a unique program that sets the school apart and celebrates the often quirky nature of our close community. Even during the pandemic, the school chess championship continued virtually.

The 43rd annual all-school chess championship will be held January 23-27, 2023 at lunchtime (12:30-1:10pm) in the gym. All students in K-8 are enthusiastically invited to participate in the tournament. Students must only know the basic rules of chess, including how each piece moves.

Let the games begin!