Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Excel in Junior Chess
Chess has long been one of the most enjoyable competitive outlets available for those gifted in organization, planning, and logic. It's not surprising to learn then, that homeschoolers are prominent among the top ranks of junior chess in the U.S.
Perhaps no family demonstrates this as vividly as the Heimanns of Wexford, PA near Pittsburgh. Larry and An, and their 9-year old twin sons, Alex and Mark, are part of the North Pittsburgh HomeSchoolers Razing Rooks team. The program, founded and coached by Larry, is the three time defending champion of the Western Pennsylvania Scholastic Chess Competition.
Alex and Mark have excelled at the national level, and are third and fourth respectively in the U.S. Chess Federation's national rankings among fourth graders. Mark is the defending national co-champion while Alex finished ninth at the event, held earlier this year in Dallas, TX.
The Razing Rooks are part of the North Pittsburgh Homeschool Enrichment Day program, which offers a variety of courses and activities to augment the education process for area homeschool families. Larry Heimann is a professor of information systems at Carnegie Mellon University, but has managed to juggle his schedule in order to teach numerous students an understanding an appreciation of the game he loves.
Larry says the team has three emphases when approaching the game: including character, prayer, and training.
"God has really blessed our team," he said. "There are only three tournaments in 2 ½ years where we haven't won a trophy."
More than the accolades however, Larry cites the enjoyment of the team members working, learning and playing together as a sign of the program's success.
For Alex and Mark, the success they've enjoyed is something of a fringe benefit.
"It's about learning and character," Alex said. "Wins and losses take care of themselves."
"I like the way it helps me focus," Mark said. "You also develop patience."
Larry said he and An are careful not to push the boys on the competitive end.
"It's totally their choice whether they want to compete in a tournament," he said. "We had a local tourney recently, and neither boy wanted to play, and that's ok. I still went down with the team and they ended up being my assistants for the day. If they opt out of playing, that's ok. It has to be their choice or they're not going to enjoy it."
One thing he'd like to see change about his local program, is for more girls to get involved. Larry notes that he sees the same trend of noticeably more male players reflected around the country.
"It's really hard to get the girls involved with chess although we've had some good players," he said. "The boys respond to it. A lot of them enjoy the battle motif."
Larry says that he sees a lot of homeschoolers involved in chess competitions around the country, and explains that the game seems to draw from groups who are typically serious about education.
For more information on the North Pittsburgh Homeschoolers Razing Rooks, click here:
For more information on junior chess, click here:
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