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OPINION | PAPER TRAILS: White Hall High junior is youngest player to ever win state chess championship

by Sean Clancy | September 4, 2022 at 3:36 a.m.


The new Arkansas state chess champion is also the youngest person to ever hold the title.

William Donham, a 16-year-old junior at White Hall High School, won the state championship at a competition last month in Russellville that featured 56 players who are all members of the United States Chess Federation. Donham defeated 2018 state champ David Phillips in a final game that lasted almost four hours.

"At first I was tired, but afterward it dawned on me that I'd won," Donham said last week.

Donham, the son of Dale and Sheryl Donham, took up chess when he was in first grade as part of the gifted and talented curriculum. He would play against his older sister, Kristin, who would beat him, but he always asked for a rematch.

"It's competitive. As I played it more and more, I got better," he said. "I don't like to lose, and I kept playing until I didn't lose."

He entered local competitions and won a few Pine Bluff Co-Op tournaments. His mother took him to Little Rock to visit the Urban Knights Chess Club, where he learned more about the game from National Master Tony Davis and Fletcher Gragg. Donham was 11 when he placed third after tiebreaks in his first United Chess Federation tournament.

"I was nervous," he said. "I'd only played against kids my age, and now there were all these older people that I had to play."

Donham has competed at tournaments in Tennessee, New Jersey, Texas and Florida and needs a little more than 40 points to advance to the expert level.

He is a member of Mosaic Critical Thinkers, Problem Solvers and Readers Chess Club in Little Rock, which was founded by Georgia Morris.

"It's a great outlet," he says. "I get to play with Mrs. Georgia and her team, and I can sometimes help the kids there and also be an advocate for chess."

Nicholas Jaeger, president of the Arkansas Chess Association, said that after talking to Arkansas chess veterans, "it seems there is no question that William is the youngest" state champion. "We typically see people in their 20s and 30s win, so for him to win at 16 is truly astonishing."

Sheryl Donham is a proud mom.

"I have his trophy sitting right by my chair," she said with a laugh.

It's not all championship glory and checkmates, she added.

"He's had his downs. He does lose and we deal with that, but then he's had these awesome wins like this one."

Looking toward to the future, Donham, who wants to study astrophysics in college, admits that he has some tough classes lined up this school year that may take away from his chess time.

"School precedes any other activities, and I want to make sure I'm doing well in school."

email: sclancyadgnewsroom.com


Print Headline: Teenager is state chess champion

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