“When Ted Komada started teaching 14 years ago, he says he didn’t know how to manage a classroom and was struggling to connect with students.

He noticed a couple of days after school that a group of kids would get together to play chess. “I said, ‘I know how to play chess. Let me go show these kids how to do it.'”

So he went across the hall and did nothing, he says, but lose game after game. “And that’s when I remember being like, ‘Oh, there’s knowing how the pieces move, and there’s playing chess.'”

Now playing chess is a big deal at Killip Elementary in Flagstaff, Ariz., where Komada is a teacher and coaches the chess team. The whole program started as a safe place for kids to come after school — a diversion — and this week dozens of those students are getting ready to head out to Nashville, Tenn., to compete with about 5,000 other young people at the SuperNationals of chess. The competition only happens every four years and the last time the team went, they placed a team at third in the nation.

Back then, Skylar Boyce was just 6 years old. Now he’s 10, still playing chess, and says he can’t wait to go again this year and place first.

He says chess is fun and it teaches you stuff: “Stuff that helps you in the real world. Like for trades. You always want to trade fairly in chess and you always need to trade fairly in the world,” he says. “You don’t want to, like, give someone a car if they’re gonna give you $5.”

Speaking of money, the team raised $35,000 so all the kids who qualified could go.”

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