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Canyon Lake Chess Team making moves on the board, off | Kids Who Make SA Great

How popular is Comal ISD chess? A Canyon Lake High School coach said their tournament attendance is second to football.

CANYON LAKE, Texas — Chess is a full-fledged thing in the Comal Independent School District. And its popularity continues to grow. 

"When we first took our first kids to our first tournament, and we lost that sparked a fire," Charles Van Houten said. "I don't like to lose." 

Van Houten is the chess coach at Canyon Lake High School (CLHS). He started the school's program and has boards set up in his advanced placement classes.

"I played chess all my life. I mean, I used to play with my dad, and he would play me once a month," he said.

According to Van Houten, the matches stopped when he beat his father. He tries to pass that winning desire on to his students, who have to earn a victory on the chess board with him.

"When they sit down. It's my mind versus your mind," Van Houten said. "That's my superpower."

He said the team's creation is a district initiative to get students involved in activities. Van Houten has watched the program flourish at his school and others in Comal ISD.

"The other coach and I gave part of our stipend so that we could have a guy just to play with our freshmen," he said.

Senior Roman Gonzales started playing a year and a half ago. He saw his math teacher playing against chess team member Zachary Ellis.

"I wanted to try and play Zach, and I got destroyed," Gonzales said. "So I made it my goal to beat him by the end of the year. And I did." 

Ellis said his grandfather got him interested when he was five or six years old. The 17-year-old student said they'd play for about two hours every week. Then, they stopped.

CLHS gave him a chance to play and collaborate.

"Just all the good moves," Ellis said. "All the bad moves as well because there's a lot of those around here." 

Jessica Wadle said she started playing in the second grade. She's 15 years old and skilled on the board.

"It was a lot more than just, oh, it's a game," Wadle said. 

Jacob Tuckness has powerlifting, golf, and other activities. Chess is second only to golf.

"I just attack a lot, don't really play much defense, but it makes it fun," Tuckness said. 

Van Houten has an award-winning group. They are even holding tournaments where he said the attendance is right next to football.

While the victories are sweet, the camaraderie may be more precious nectar.

"Kids that would never interact with each other, never communicate with each other, will sit down and play chess together," he said.

Chess becomes an equalizer—a humbler and a clique breaker.

"It's a competition, but it's also a way to meet other people," Wadle said.

Van Houten said even students who just come to his classroom to play a game might not be on the chess team but still get sucked into its intellectual lure.

"They may not be my student, but all of a sudden I get to know this kid," he said. "I get to build a relationship with the kid. I high five them in the hallway."  

Canyon Lake will host its next tournament on February 4. Team members are prepping, talking trash, and correcting each other for victory.

"Without the team building that we have, we wouldn't be where we are today," Ellis said. 

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