I had my last chess club at the Marshalltown Salvation Army last week. I started the Club in 2001 when I asked the Salvation Army if they had a chess club as part of their weekly game night and Major Joan Stoker told me "No. Why don’t you start one?" My kids needed people to play so I started the club on Thursday nights as part of the Army’s Open Gym. Kids would head into the gym to play ball and get a free meal and eventually wander into the chess club, some for a few minutes and others for an hour or two. None of these kids stuck with chess but most had a good time just playing.
In 2003 AmericInn asked me to run a chess tournament at their Marshalltown hotel where the top three finishers would compete in their national tournament in Minneapolis. I held out for a dozen free USCF memberships which I gave to some of the Salvation Army kids and other local players. I was hoping that the local players would come to the Salvation Army to play which didn’t happen with one notable exception in Jon McCord who took his son Jack to the club and kept coming to the club for the next 14 years.
The club hit its high note from 2005 to 2007 when Scott Johnson (the teacher advisor for the high school chess club) started routing players to the club and I went to the high school for some exhibitions. The chess club teamed with my sons Matt and Ben and shared three state high school championships. Unfortunately, Scott left Marshalltown and the new advisors of the school club did not have the same interest. And a year later the Salvation Army was undergoing some turnover in leadership and the new majors discontinued the open gym for kids.
Now the club had more adults than kids and I was having trouble getting the adults to play so in 2009 I decided to have a weekly speed chess tournament with a time limit of game in 10 minutes plus a 2 second delay. It was a pretty successful idea which got the local players back to playing and attracting players from all over the area and even out of state players traveling through Iowa would stop in to play a few games of nationally rated speed chess. The Salvation Army doesn’t have guest internet so I always rated the tournaments when I got home. I was investigating someone who wanted to partner with me in holding some youth tournaments in Des Moines when I found out one of the blitz regulars from out of town was on the sex offender list. I still had some young players and even though this particular sex offender wasn’t barred from being in contact with minors I decided to stop the blitz tournaments in late 2012 since without internet access anyone could show up to play chess and I wouldn’t know whether or not they were on the sex offender list until later on.
As it turns out this particular player that was on the sex offender list showed up at one of my Time Odds blitz tournaments in the summer of 2013 and got upset when I told him he couldn’t play. He thought he should be allowed because he had no restrictions about being around children. To me it was a no-brainer. Let’s say a parent looks this guy up and sees him on the sex offender list and asks me about it. At that point I have two choices – a) I can pretend I didn’t know or b) I have say I knew and now I’m vouching for someone on the sex offender list. Neither of those choices seemed too good to me so I just said he was not invited and that was that. It’s not a personal thing but I didn’t put this guy on the sex offender list – he did that. I asked a lawyer if I would be liable if there was ever an incident or misunderstanding. The lawyer said that I probably wasn’t liable but it wouldn’t stop me from getting sued and making a lawyer like him a lot of money so I think I made the right choice to not have this guy at my tournaments and stop my Thursday Night speed chess tournaments where I couldn’t check on the participants.
The club had a brief uptick in 2014 when we hosted Tim McEntee’s Expert Open with world youth champion Awonder Liang in attendance. There were some returning players and some new players but within a few months they all drifted away and for the last few months more often as not the only three players at the club were Jon, Jaleb (who had been coming for 10 years with a college break), and myself.
I knew for a couple of months I was going to miss this week’s club due to travel and as I got closer to this week the more it seemed like the best time to stop having the club. Having the club for 15+ years is something I was pretty happy with even if the ending left a bit to be desired. It would be easy to blather on about how clubs are passé and most people play online and while there is some truth to that I’d have to say the main reason the club dwindled was because the club hours of Thursdays from 5 to 7 isn’t the best time for workers or school kids like it was 10 years ago. There was some talk about trying to have the club at the library on Sunday afternoons which may be a great idea since there will be more visibility. If it happens that would be great and I’ll probably show up on occasion to play. As the saying goes ‘All Good Things Must Come to an End’. The Marshalltown Chess Club was a good thing and it has come to an end but maybe there will soon be a new beginning.