Reading, Writing & Rooks

Ida Freeman Students Named Chess Champions…Again!
Reading, writing and rooks. And championships. Those are things many students at Ida Freeman Elementary School know very well.

In March, 39 members of the school’s chess team took top honors in three sections of the Oklahoma State Scholastic Chess Championships, held at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City. Competition was stiff, with over 260 players in grades kindergarten through 12 competing in six sections.

Fifth-grade teacher and chess coach David Nichols said he is very proud of his players. “Three state championships in one day,” he said. “This is an Ida Freeman record.”

The championships came in the K-4 Under 500 (players in grades kindergarten through fourth with ratings below 500), K-6 Under 700 (players in grades kindergarten through sixth with ratings below 700), and K-6 Premier (players in grades kindergarten through sixth with ratings above 700).

The number of championships wasn’t the only school record broken during the tournament, Nichols said. The players set records for highest point total ever scored in a five-round tournament – 17 by the K-6 U700 team. This also was the first state championship won by Ida Freeman “underclassmen” – K-4 U500 team, and the first state championship ever won in the K-12 U900 section by an Ida Freeman team.

“It was also our first individual state championship,” Nichols said.

Abby Taliaferro claimed that honor with a perfect 5-0 score. “This marks the second tournament in a row that Abby has gone undefeated.,” Nichols added.

Nichols has been coaching Ida Freeman’s chess team for 10 years now, he said. During that time his teams have earned many honors, including nine Oklahoma State Chess Team Championships, two Oklahoma State Grade Championships, the United States Chess Federation’s “Affiliate of the Year” in 2001, four appearances at national championship tournaments, a No. 2 national team ranking in 2004, and has been named one of the top 50 school chess programs for seven consecutive years.

Nichols said chess is not part of the curriculum at Ida Freeman, but there is a lot of support for the game. The school club is open to all fifth grade students, who give up two recesses each week to practice their game.

“More than 90 percent of our fifth graders participate, some casually, some for the tournaments, and some who just want to be able to beat their grandfathers,” Nichols said.

Chess traditionally has been a game dominated by boys and men, Nichols said, so he’s made a special effort to introduce girls to the game.

“This year, about 58 percent of the team is girls,” he said. “About 65 percent of our competitive team is made up of girls and half of the 24 kids who will qualify for the national tournament will be girls.

“This is the highest number of girl players since our beginning,” Nichols said. “The world of chess has been dominated by males forever. This year we finally had a girl as an individual state champion.”

Playing is about more than winning tournaments, though. Nichols said the players, especially the girls, benefit a lot in terms of self-control, self-esteem and generally feeling good about themselves. The girls are nicknamed the Ida Freeman Dragon Ladies.

“But that’s not a bad thing,” he said.

In a culture where flashy video games have replaced strategic board games for many kids, Nichols said chess has proven to be an exception to the rule for his students.

“We have kids who are diagnosed ADHD kids, but you’d never know it when they’re playing chess,” he said. “There’s something about it with certain kids. Our kids with learning disabilities are on equal footing with the gifted and talented kids.”

Nichols said it is a real treat to him, as a teacher, to have kids who are in classes for the learning disabled do well playing chess. “It’s a real gift. The benefits can’t be measured, and I see it every year. I have kids who say they’ve never been as good at anything in school as they are at chess.”

The Ida Freeman chess team is supported in part by the Edmond Central Rotary Club. Nichols said 20 Rotarians come to the school once a year to play the top 20 students during lunch.

“I think the Rotarians won two games this year,” Nichols said. “It’s a great event. The kids get to meet community people.”

The chess club does more than just play games, Nichols said. Students are required to maintain high academic standards, and they have to study great games from history to better understand the strategy of the game.

The Ida Freeman team will next compete in the 2006 National Elementary School Chess Championships in Denver. The tournament will be held May 12-14. “In 2004, Ida Freeman’s team finished second nationally at the prestigious tournament,” Nichols said.

The school is raising money to send 24 of Ida Freeman’s best players to the national tournament.

“Operating expenses are on-going,” Nichols said. “This trip will cost about $18,000. Our kids will see some of the best players in world and play some kids who will be international and grand masters.

“We will select, prepare and field a team of 24 of Ida’s best players in hope of returning home with a national championship,” Nichols said.

The kind of success the Ida Freeman team has enjoyed doesn’t just happen. Nichols said, “This is the result of lots of hard work by lots of people. I would like to thank the parents of our players who give lots of support with driving, fund raising, etc. I would also like to thank the Ida Chess Booster Board, Kim Albro, Linda Beasley and Stephanie Simmons for their hours of work in keeping our team fed, uniformed, funded and motivated throughout the year.”
To learn more about the school’s chess team, or to make a contribution, visit the team online at

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