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K-12 Heads to Disney World Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
December 3, 2013
Melinda & Nicky, Photo Nerissa Sparkman
My recent CLO posts, it seems, have been focused on saying farewell to my role as a chess parent. Since last April’s SuperNationals V, when Nicky’s scholastics countdown began in earnest, I’ve begun sentimentally marking each milestone, acutely aware of how quickly this phase is drawing to a close. By this time next year I’ll be a sideline spectator, no longer a hands-on participant in Nicky’s chess journey, even though he’ll continue playing through college and beyond.

So as we prepare for the 2013 K-12 Nationals (December 13-15) next week, it’s hard not to wax nostalgic about tournaments past, especially while recovering in the wake of indulgent Thanksgiving feasting with family and friends.

Nicky’s first rated tournament was the 2005 Turkey Bowl, a local non-scholastic event held annually near Thanksgiving. That year, he competed in the U1200 section, earned a provisional rating of 957, and grabbed the Top Unrated prize. This year, Nicky played in the Open section and landed in a 4-way tie for first with GM Julio Becerra, FM Eric Rodriguez, and NM Ernesto Alvarez. It’s a fun way to chart his progress from the very beginning, and it’s definitely a fitting bookend as he bids farewell (at least temporarily) to this annual tournament tradition.

Nicky’s second rated tournament was the 2005 K-12 Nationals in Houston. In retrospect, he probably should have wet his feet in a few more local tournaments before diving headlong into an enormous, highly competitive, almost 1600-player strong national tournament. But ignorance, while perhaps not always bliss, allowed him to leap in optimistically where wiser souls might fear to tread.

In Houston, Nicky was initiated into the highly addictive world of bughouse and hyper-competitive blitz; he also discovered just how grueling national tournaments could be. Still, by the end of the tournament, Nicky had clearly found his home. Whatever initial trepidation he felt had quickly dissolved into euphoria over the heady mixture of burgeoning friendships and intense competition. He was in this “chess thing” for the long haul…and I felt the foreshadowing of my new life as a vigilant, often frazzled, chess mom.

Perhaps because of our baptism by fire into scholastic chess, K-12 Nationals have always held a special spot in our hearts. We’ve been aided and abetted by the tournament’s unusual accessibility: over the past nine years (this year included), Orlando has hosted five K-12s – a distance close enough to allow us the luxury of driving to the venue, yet far away enough to require a hotel room (which spares us – well, me – the hassle of commuting and finding a place to wait).

The Florida tournaments also feature many of the same wonderful local and state tournament directors, volunteers, and families who make returning to this event particularly warm and welcoming. And competing on the home turf somehow gives Nicky an extra edge, because his three titles were all won in Florida.

So it feels especially appropriate that Nicky’s final K-12 Nationals will be taking place in Orlando, at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. This sprawling monument to excess exudes the best and worst of Disney (and the best and worst of suburbia, in general): one the plus side, there’s fastidious (almost maniacal) attention to detail, down to the iconic mouse-shaped waffles; on the minus side, the resort has been refined so meticulously that, underneath the Disney dazzle, it’s rendered too uniformly bland and sterile.

Over the years, though, my feelings toward Coronado Springs have mellowed: I’ve come to appreciate its über-cheeriness and familiarity while studiously ignoring the elements that drive me Disney-daffy. Ultimately, the venue has served Nicky well in his championship quests, and that’s what matters most.

Last year, pre-tournament, I mused about Nicky’s chances of capturing the 11th grade title, given his pattern of winning in his odd-grade (7th and 9th) years. This year, the wistful (and admittedly greedy!) side of me can’t help but think how totally awesome it would be if Nicky closed out his scholastic chess career as the 12th grade champion. As of this writing, he’s again seeded Number 2 behind the super-strong Sam Schmakel, with whom he shared the crown last year. So who knows what this year’s tournament may bring?

As in tournaments past, Nicky’s been distracted by non-chess activities lately, leaving little time for tournament preparation. The past few months found him (and me) mired in college applications, a particularly stressful, slightly twisted, highly torturous form of parent-child bonding (those who’ve been through the process know exactly what I mean). Fortunately, Nicky has now completed all of his applications and has already been accepted to Lindenwood University. Although he won’t fully commit until the other schools respond, Nicky’s strongly leaning toward Lindenwood, where he can study sports management, join a solid chess team (his first!) coached by GMs, and immerse into the exploding St. Louis chess scene: triple temptations he most likely will not find elsewhere.

NickyEpi.jpgWith college applications finally off his plate, Nicky has turned his full attention to reuniting with Epiphany Peters at the K-12s (nothing screams romance quite like pairing up for bughouse, right?). And of course that means I’ll be relegated to spending quite a bit of time alone. 

It’s obvious we’ve come a long way from that first K-12 in Houston, where I stubbornly parked myself outside the enormous tournament hall and refused to budge until Nicky emerged unscathed (at least physically) from his rounds. Back then, my role as mama bear was crystal clear: He never left my sight except when he was playing. Now, with Nicky’s between-round attention constantly diverted, and the independence that comes with having his own room key, I’m grateful if we manage to share a meal at tournaments. 

But one thing hasn’t changed: Nine years ago, it was immediately evident that chess, and the people within the chess community, felt like home to Nicky. And even though he’s growing up, moving on, and becoming a (hopefully) responsible young adult, chess remains central to his life. So here’s to one last K-12 Nationals – and to going out in style!

Melinda will also report from the K-12 in Florida and you can find more information, results and pairings here
. Headed down to Disney yourself? Share your own games and stories with us on facebook, twitter or with CLO editor [email protected]

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