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Checkmate Cougars

Izard County chess teams make the right moves

By Lisa Burnett

This article was originally published May 9, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. Updated May 7, 2013 at 3:52 p.m.

from-the-left-eric-vest-andrew-walker-marcus-mccormick-cary-behm-chandler-holt-and-coach-steven-walker-pose-with-the-trophy-the-team-received-for-winning-the-class-1a2a-state-chess-championship-in-beebe-on-april-27-this-is-the-teams-first-state-title-since-2008

From the left, Eric Vest, Andrew Walker, Marcus McCormick, Cary Behm, Chandler Holt and coach Steven Walker pose with the trophy the team received for winning the Class 1A/2A State Chess Championship in Beebe on April 27. This is the team’s first state title since 2008.

— The Izard County High School chess team is back on top of its game.

The team was able to check back into the top spot at the Class 1A/2A State Chess Championship after a lull in wins. The team won the title in Beebe on April 27.

This marks the eighth time the school has won the state title.

Steven Walker, who coaches the chess team, is no stranger to winning a state chess title.

Walker is a graduate of Izard County, where he was part of a state-title-winning chess team four times.

“We won when I was in the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grade,” Walker said.

In addition to coaching the chess team, Walker teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science and is the school’s computer-science specialist.

“We were happy, but kind of shocked [when we won],” Walker said. “I knew we had a good team, but there were two or three other really good teams at the competition.”

Walker said he took five of the six high school team members to the state competition.

“The players were kind of surprised and really excited,” Walker said.

The high school team practices every Wednesday.

Although the school has clinched the top spot seven times in the past, Walker said this is the first year the high school has won since he was a senior in 2008.

“We went on a four- or five-year losing streak,” Walker said.

While at the state competition, freshman Andrew Walker and senior Carey Behm led the team to victory by winning all four of their individual matches.

According to a news release from the school, senior Chandler Holt won two matches, lost one and had a draw, while junior Marcus McCormick and freshman Eric Vest each won one match and lost one in the tournament.

Since the team is now out of its losing streak, Walker said, the players focused more on the “end game.”

“You have to know how to finish the game in the end,” Walker said.

Along with coaching the high school team, Walker also coaches the Izard County Elementary chess team.

The elementary team recently won the Northcentral Arkansas Education Co-op Chess Tournament in Melbourne on April 25, where Cole Wallis placed first and Chase Orf placed second, individually.

The elementary team doesn’t practice as often as the high school team but still puts in its fair share of hours with the chessboard.

“The elementary [team] practices every other Tuesday,” Walker said.

As coach of the elementary and high school teams, Walker wants to see both teams stay successful in the future, although the high school team will lose some of its best players to graduation this year.

“It’s going to be hard to win [the state title] next year,” Walker said. “We’re just going to have to train hard during practice next year.”

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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