• Eleven-year-old Eli Decker of Murphy contemplates his move in a chess game against 10-year-old Joshua Allison of Hiawassee, Ga. Photo by SAMANTHA SINCLAIR

SCOUTING AROUND: Chess club encouraging young thinkers

   Brandi Rogers started taking her children to the Chess Club run by Karl Godert the first day he offered it at the Murphy Public Library 12 years ago.
   “They already enjoyed playing chess, and when Mr. Karl offered a class we were excited about it,” Rogers said.
   Now her oldest child, Destiny Rangel, is taking her 10-month-old son, Rhett, to the Chess Club. Plus, Rogers’ youngest daughter, Christina, who has been attending since she was a newborn, is Godert’s “chief assistant.”
   “I’ve been here my whole life,” the 11-year-old said between games about her chief assistant role. “I know all the tricks to chess. I help people who don’t know how to play well.”
   Godert runs the club for children each summer when he returns to Murphy from his other home in southwest Florida. From 1-3 p.m. Fridays, 10-20 children gather to play in the library’s meeting room.
   One by one, Godert greets each child as he or she enters room, offers a gentle hug and asks each child a specific question about what they’ve been doing since he last saw them. Then the children work together to set up chess boards and pieces. As they play, Godert walks around the room, watching the kids, offering advice and tips when he sees fit.
   The children even help each other as they play – it’s hard to call them opponents with how much they support each other during games.
   “The way you learn to play chess is to play the game,” Godert said. “Chess is like a lot of things in life – you have to learn to do it for yourself.”
   He is genuinely impressed with each child, sharing their accomplishments – whether it’s skillfulness at chess or learning German, like a proud grandfather. And some, like Rogers’ children, do see him as a grandfather figure.
   “Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, so he’s like a grandfather to me,” Christina said.
   Rangel agreed that he’s like a grandfather. In fact, Rangel, who lives in Blairsville, Ga., brings her son along to visit with her family, including Godert.
   Godert called Rhett the youngest chess enthusiast in the world after he picked up a queen – the most powerful piece. The baby looked at the piece like he knew what it was, and held it like a chess player about to move the piece to another square on the board.
   Rogers said she sees a lot of Christina in Rhett.
   “He’ll be playing by the time he’s 4,” she said.
   Christina is excited each Friday she gets to play chess since she doesn’t get to play much at home. She values what playing chess has provided to her.
   “It helps my brain get moving, helps me think,” she said.
   Godert said over the years he has seen the game help children develop strong character.
   “Naturally, I feel good about making a contribution,” Godert said. “And it’s a worldly contribution.”
   Godert started playing chess when he was a young boy growing up in Buffalo. He and his friends were always playing chess at one of their house. When he was in the Navy and Merchant Marines, he continued to play chess on ships during downtime while serving in World War II. All his life, he’s been able to find someone to play chess with.
   “If I had to, I’d put a chess board on a public beach or park and wait until someone showed up,” he said.
   Christina shares the same spirit as Godert when it comes to chess. When she’s an adult, she plans to continue what he’s started and run a chess program for kids.

Toys for Tots takes two
   Cherokee County’s Toys for Tots program received two pieces of good news last week. First, John Evans was honored with a Local Coordinator of the Year award. Then Don Slifer confirmed that he would continue as Evans’ assistant for 2017, then fill his shoes as the new coordinator starting in 2018.
   “The good news is Toys for Tots in Cherokee County will continue,” Evans said. He added that most of the core volunteers stand behind Slifer and have signed on to work with him. Slifer also is the program coordinator for Big Brothers
Big Sisters of Cherokee County.
   Evans decided two years ago that 2017 would be his last year serving as coordinator for Toys for Tots. This is his 10th year running the local program with his wife, Susie. This is the first time Evans and, as he pointed out, Cherokee County was named the Coordinator of the Year for Region II, which encompasses North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
   “The award was a complete surprise,” Susie Evans said.
   “We never expected it,” he said. “We’re just a blip on the radar screen.”
   Evans said while Cherokee County serves an average of 1,000 kids each year, there are counties nearby that serve 25,000 children. He thinks Cherokee County’s program won because of what they have been able to accomplish per capita.
   Evans will be attending the national Toys for Tots conference in September, when he will receive the award at the awards ceremony. To learn more about Cherokee County’s Toys for Tots, visit murphy-nc.toysfortots.org or facebook.com/CherokeeToys4Tots.
   Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.