I have been involved in scholastic chess for over 30 years. This year I have decided to run for the Executive Board of the USCF. I wish to take this opportunity to introduce myself to those of you who may not know me.
Chess Playing and Teaching Background
My first chess tournament experience was as a member of the Penn State Chess Team in 1963 and 1964 under the coaching of International Master Donald Byrne. In 1964, I became both captain of the chess team and president of the college chess club.
After obtaining a degree in business administration and embarking on a short and uninspiring career in the underwriting department of a large insurance company, I discovered my love of teaching. Since 1970, I have been employed as a teacher for the School District of Philadelphia. In 1971, I organized a chess club at the Frederick Douglass Elementary School, a small, inner city, neighborhood school. At the time, I was also attending graduate school studying the educational concepts of the Open Classroom based in part on the theories of the Swiss Psychologist, Jean Piaget. I found a natural application for these ideas in chess. Using my experience of 20 years in working with students at Douglass and at Roberts Vaux Junior High, I have developed and refined a program based on a discovery approach to chess instruction.
In 1977, with another teacher, I created the first feeder system to compete in the national scholastic championships. Graduates from our elementary school chess program led Vaux Junior High School to 7 consecutive national titles between 1977 and 1983. Featured on the cover of the September 1977 issue of Chess Life, and the subject of a loosely based fictional movie by Wonderworks, entitled The Mighty Pawns, our program inspired replication throughout the United States.
Although our students attended the national championships every year from 1977 until 1989 we never received any money from the School District of Philadelphia. We could not rely on parental contributions as the economic status of all of our students made them eligible for the school's free lunch program. Through a variety of fund raising techniques conducted by parents, teachers, and myself we financed all of our own expenses. This included a match and a two-week trip to Yugoslavia in which students stayed with the families of chess playing youth in Belgrade. As scholastic chess blossomed throughout the United States, many other programs exceeded our efforts in terms of the number of schools, players, and coaches involved and size of their budgets. As winning diminished, available funds dried up. In 1989, Douglass' last trip to the nationals was financed with my credit cards.
In 1990, I transferred to the Julia Masterman School, a magnet school for students from grades 5 through 12, with strong academic backgrounds and economic diversity. Since then students from Masterman have won two national junior high championships and, between 1996 and 2000, four national high school championships. I have organized exchange trips with Masterman students and students from Israel and Iceland. The former was arranged in 1998, with the assistance of a grant, tohonor the 50th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. My contacts with Iceland date back to numerous trips with the Collins Kids in which I assisted as a chaperone.
USCF Delegate and Committee Work
In 1993 I became a delegate for Pennsylvania at the US Open in Philadelphia and joined the Scholastic Committee. At that time the committee's main task was to develop a format for a stable and successful national championship. Some previous championships had had serious problems. A new organizer would be unaware of techniques previously developed to handle those problems.
As growth in the nationals continued, we needed to create a set of guidelines. The Scholastic Committee became larger, and at the St. Paul Delegates meeting a five person Scholastic Council was elected to direct the work of the committee. I was elected co-chair of the Council with Pat Hoekstra, and we completed the guidelines with the assistance of Tom Brownscombe. The hard work that went into the project was the result of over a decade of effort by Alan Benjamin, Pete Nixon, Sunil Weeramantry, Dwayne Barber, Ralph Bowman, and many others. The completed regulations can be seen on the USCF website.
Another important project is the creation of a national network of scholastic programs and organizations, an idea of Beatriz Marinello. There has been explosive growth since the 1970s, when some of the early national scholastics drew only about 100 players. This year at the Supernationals in Kansas City nearly 4400 students participated in the elementary, junior high, and high school championships combined, all USCF members.
This phenomenon is primarily the result of a nationwide interest in organizing school teams by teachers, coaches, and parents. Despite the large number of these players participating in USCF tournaments there are many others who never join the USCF or play in a rated tournament. Many small school clubs, community clubs, and school leagues are unaware or have not taken the time to investigate an affiliation with the USCF.
To create and advertise a national network of chess organizations through online registration at the USCF's website would extend our contacts and bring many more students under the umbrella of USCF service. We hope to develop an interactive website which will enable these affiliates to respond to questions and opinion polls from the Scholastic Committee and the USCF office so that the needs of the scholastic community can be quickly and easily identified. This use of the web for information exchange should be applied to all affiliates.
Our third project was to collect and present to the office and the Board information concerning the effect on scholastics of numerous delays in rating tournament games and processing membership applications. The office responded quickly to the complaints and revamped their process thereby shortening the time for rating submissions requiring manual treatment. Presently, the scholastic committee is working with the office on the provisions to be incorporated into a system designed to provide automated rating of tournaments submitted online.
USCF's certification program provides organizers with an indication of the skill and expertise of tournament directors. Programs or individuals seeking to hire a chess coach have no corresponding method of evaluating candidates. The Scholastic Committee is developing a voluntary certification process, which will provide a more accurate assessment of the experience and skills of coaches who apply.
The Scholastic Committee has some concerns about our relationship with US ChessLive. We believe that Games Parlor should not have free access to membership information in our database. USCF might be liable if personal information about our junior members were to become available to any other organization
We also have questions concerning the increase in the cost of TLAs, the reduction in the number of times School Mates is issued each year, and the effect of the new rating system on the younger players.
Policies for the Future of the USCF
At one time, scholastic issues were separate from the concerns of the rest of the membership. Those interested in scholastic matters were comprised of a group of coaches, parents, teachers, and scholastic organizers who worked independently on their own projects. Their vision for the USCF and its budgetary allocations revolved around their scholastic endeavors, which were often of little concern to many other members.
Today, things are different. Scholastic membership has grown and more of our juniors are developing into strong players. Many coaches seek strong adult competition for their better scholastic players. I have always encouraged my players to play up into higher sections than necessary, which I believe has contributed to their improvement. The interests of scholastic members and adult members have merged. The USCF umbrella provides needed services to both, such as rated play, book and equipment sales, Chess Life, and US ChessLive. The continuation of such services and the financial stability of the USCF are ofinterest to both adults and youth. No other organization comes close to providing all these services. It is not in the scholastic interest or anyone else's to create a competing organization. The larger the common pool of players, the better the chess is for everyone.
The USCF has a number of serious problems. The largest is the growing obsolescence of our technical base. This has put a strain on the office staff to create a patchwork of survival techniques to maintain service. The antiquated computer system has made quick and reliable ratings calculations impossible. Members, who are outraged with the delays, have subjected the staff to unfair criticism.
Temporary fixes require an inefficient use of time and money to maintain, and are a drain on an already overburdened office staff. We must bite the bullet and overhaul the whole system, which is not easy. Many competent people have examined our procedures and been unable to identify one workable system that would handle every task.
The internet/ratings subcommittee has recommended the system be rebuilt on a modular concept. Each module would be task specific and be designed to work seamlessly with the others. The order of development would be prioritized according to need, and the modules developed one at a time to spread out costs. I think people can accept some delays in service when the cause is not one of indifference and they know a solution is in the process of development. Patience will wear thin if they perceive that no effort is being made to find a permanent answer.
The two most important functions of the USCF are the maintenance of a prestigious national rating system and the issuance of Chess Life. If we lose one of these, especially the ratings, we may lose many members. I welcome the discussion of an automated on line submission for tournament reports. For this to be successful; however, we must minimize the amount of manual adjustments that would be required.
Problems caused by our old computer system are another matter. Membership information and the ratings formula are in separate databases, which do not communicate with each other. The rating database supplies only ID numbers, not names or other player information. Thus, tournament reports generated by pairing programs such as Win TD or Swiss-Sys have not incorporated any information other than ID number. If an incorrect ID number is entered, the wrong player's rating changes.
One of my players was credited with a tournament in which he never participated ten months ago and the rating was never corrected. I have heard of similar problems from many others. We must upgrade our system before any automated on line procedures can work to their maximum efficiency. It has been suggested that two fields (name and birthday) be included. If there is an error in one field, how do we know which one is wrong? Would we have to intervene manually? If three fields were included on the report, and a mistake appeared in one, a computer might automatically select the two that agreed.
Another problem confronting USCF is the decline in membership from scholastic to youth or youth to adult. We need to search for ways of retaining our members, as they grow older. Much of the growth in scholastic chess is attributable to the large number of chess programs developed within schools, primarily elementary schools. Most of these depend on the few people that organize them and do not survive if those people leave. Incentives at the player level may help but are not sufficient to bring many new players into the game.
We must find ways to encourage more high schools and colleges to institute chess programs. It is difficult to find teachers to coach chess without the principal's overt support. When the Superintendent is convinced that chess improves academic performance, most principals go along. If we can convince administrators that chess os valuable, utilizing some current research such as the Margolis study, we may be able to increase high school and college participation and stem the drop off in membership renewals during these years.
In New York, a man by the name of Cliff Jackson used this study to convince the Superintendent of District 9 to institute chess as a mandatory requirement in all of his schools. Hundreds of kids began playing chess in local tournaments. Today, this has grown into a million dollar effort encompassing the entire city with thousands of participating players, under the direction of Chess in the Schools.In Philadelphia, there is a miniature version, which I direct.
Another possibility is to extend the age of youth memberships to 22, giving more college students a low cost membership until they graduate. Finally, the development of the club chess concept might attract more of the older players. In the same way competition among schools has encouraged participation in the national scholastics, a national club championship might bring in additional players who had graduated from their school program, but could still play with its members on club teams. A return to a national intercollegiate championship organized as an individual/ team tournament could help increase the number of college age memberships.
My students love to play on US ChessLive. At all ages they come into my room to play a quick game before school, during lunch, and after classes. This program has been valuable; however, my stronger players prefer to play on the Internet Chess Club as the pool of players is larger and the average playing strength is higher. Stronger players who want the better competition ICC provides are willing to pay for it, but less experienced players are not. Many still play on Kasparov because of the schools’ competition it introduced and its ease of use. USCF should support online competition among schools, which hopefully will be in operation by US ChessLive this fall. There is no one online competition that is best, and we should try to avoid being committed to a single online service. We should also look for a way to capitalize on the preference of our stronger players for the ICC and try to create an agreement with them that will provide a financial benefit to the USCF.
The USCF is in financial difficulty. Under these circumstances, it is easy to reduce or eliminate services to stay within a projected budget. This can be a double-edged sword, however. We do not want to remove services that members believe are valuable to them. A recent survey showed that the TLA section is the third most popular feature in Chess Life, a feature the recent substantial increase in TLA fees has cut in half. The reason given for this change is that the section does not pay for itself. But no feature pays for itself, except advertisements.Only TLAs bring in any money at all. There is no reason that tournament announcements should have to cover 100% of costs, when they are more popular than many other features, which cover none of their costs. TLAs provide an essential membership service. Perusing the TLAs when planning a schedule for tournaments is much easier than collecting a folder full of post cards and hoping you are on everyone's list. We can save staff time by having a discount for organizers who compose and submit their TLAs electronically in a format that can be imported directly without recopying. Higher fees could be imposed on TLAs that require manual processing.
The Executive Board has voted to severely cut back on variety of books andequipment being sold by the USCF. This has been reflected by a shrinking catalog. If people are forced to go to other vendors for many of the items they wish to purchase, they may stop buying from us and we may lose sales on the items we do stock. If we are going to reduce the number of items we carry, we should include the stock of other vendors in our catalog for a percentage of the sales we refer to them. Our catalog should be the definitive source for all chess supplies. Our motto: "One stop shopping; if we don't have it, we will get it". One area in which we have an inherent advantage is our large scholastic and youth market. Many vendors do not provide an adequate supply of good books for young developing players. The Scholastic Committee can be of assistance in recommending titles that are valuable to the development of young people.
Sponsorship is another area of concern. With our large membership base, we should be able to attract sponsors with whom we can arrange an alliance. Yasser Seirawan found a sponsor for the US Championship for the next ten years. We need to bring in additional sponsors, as we are not an affluent organization. The USCF needs to identify specific projects or services that can be supported by sponsorship and then find the sponsors for them.
OMOV will be an issue at the upcoming delegates meeting. I definitely support the idea. Delegates are generally the most active members of the USCF. Although most are probably delegates because they were already active in the USCF, some may become active in USCF affairs because they were asked to become delegates. By including more members in the decision making process, we should attract more of our members into active participation. I would like to see the right to vote extended to youth members, at least those aged 16 or over.
These are some of the areas in which I have concern. I do not pretend to have all the answers. As a candidate for the Executive Board, I will work to find solutions for these and any other problems that arise. I am not dogmatic on any issue, nor will I reject any idea because it has been identified with a particular person. Many of you have more experience than I do in a number of areas. I will always listen to any suggestion and consider any logically presented argument. The moreinput, the more likely a workable solution will be found to any problem. This has been my modus operandi on the Scholastic Committee and will continue to be if elected to the Executive Board.
My apologies to those of who are still struggling through this protracted epistle. I am not usually this verbose. Since many of you do not know me; however, and I have had no prior experience on the Executive Board, I think it is important to convey as much information as possible. If you have any further questions, please email them to me firstname.lastname@example.org.
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