Check Mate 

“Would the parent of Henry Fry please report to the judges’ table?” That’s one of the last things you want to hear while at your son’s chess tournament; but this is the announcement that greeted me as I entered the gymnasium after getting some fresh air at Henry’s very first Chess4Life chess tournament on Saturday. “Do you know where your son is?” asked the judge when I identified myself. I had to admit that I didn’t, although I assumed he was watching one of his friend’s chess games.

The judges were trying to clear up a scoring mistake. After five games, Henry had won three. The opponent he’d beaten in his last match noticed that the standings posted on the wall indicated that Henry had lost that game. This boy wanted to make sure the judges knew that Henry actually won. I was impressed with his honesty. I was also relieved, because, with three wins, Henry would get a medal and qualify for the state chess tournament. With two, he’d get nothing.

I was still relieved as the awards ceremony started at the end of the day. Several kids received medals for three wins before the trophies for the top six finishers – with four wins each – were handed out. My sense of relief soon turned to worry as the last medal recipient was called. Henry’s name was not among them. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew exactly what was going through Henry’s mind. Uggh. Then the trophies were handed out. When they got to 3rd place, Henry’s name was called. He knew something wasn’t right as he sheepishly walked up to receive the big trophy that he didn’t deserve. I wasn’t looking forward to straightening out the mess with the judges, because I knew there was a disappointed kid somewhere in the crowd who should have recieved a trophy but didn’t.

After the ceremony, Henry and I approached the lead judge to explain that Henry shouldn’t have received that trophy. Another dad and son were standing next to us, presumably to explain the same thing. The judges quickly caught their mistake, realizing that the other boy had a record of 4-1, with Henry at 3-2. And then the realization hit the judges that this mistake had a ripple effect throughout the entire population of chess players, most of whom had already left with their hardware. All of the results, including final team standings, were probably wrong. Nobody wanted to deal with that kind of cluster.

Before much else was said, I quickly handed the 3rd place trophy to the other little boy, congratulating him and giving his medal to Henry – hoping to avoid a protracted discussion. The trophy winner started to protest, suggesting that he might not have finished that high in the standings. His dad cut him off and said, “sometimes it’s best to just say ‘thank you,’ son,” as he and I gave each other knowing glances. I grabbed Henry’s hand and headed toward the door.

The discussion during the drive home was interesting. I was thankful for the day’s life lessons for Henry: Honesty is the best policy; adults make mistakes too; and sometimes it’s best not to borrow trouble.  As we prepare for Thanksgiving, if members of the Fry Lodge Faithful are looking for role models, they need look no further than the grade school chess clubs of Whatcom County.

 

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About Tim Fry

Tim is a global communications consultant. He has a background in storytelling, opinion research, brand campaigns and product launches for clients big and small. He has been recognized with several industry awards, including Ad Age’s “40 under 40” and PR News' "15 to Watch." Tim has a bachelor of science degree in foreign service from Georgetown University. When he's not helping people tell their best stories, you're likely to find him riding his bike, kayaking or catching Dungeness Crab on Lopez Island, WA. He can be reached at tim_fry@hotmail.com.
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