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Woodstock student chess coach given statewide recognition

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff Cathy Doty, Assistant Librarian at Woodstock Elementary, was honored as Oregon Chess for Success Coach of the Year in March, for her work with the students at Woodstock Elementary School.

Cathy Doty didn't know how to play chess when the Principal at Kelly School was looking for a chess club coordinator in 1992.

'She said 'you don't have to know how to play to be the coordinator'. But I had my husband teach me with a quick game. My chess has improved as I have taught the children,' smiles Doty.

Assistant Librarian at Woodstock Elementary since 2000, Doty has played and coached a lot of chess games in the past nineteen years. On March 4th, she was honored with the 'Chess For Success Coach of the Year' award at the Chess for Success State Tournament at the Oregon Convention Center.

Philip Margolin, Chess for Success President, presented the award to Doty. Margolin, a criminal defense attorney in Portland for twenty-five years, and a best-selling fiction author, knows first-hand what chess-playing can do for children.

In eighth grade he had bad grades and a bad attitude. After he started playing chess, his grades and self-esteem steadily improved. Today, he attributes his success to the skills and attitudes he learned at the chessboard.

Doty thinks a lot about how chess can turn a child's life around. She consciously, but subtly, teaches life lessons to the young players.

'Really, this game is like life. We are going to face obstacles, and the outcome depends on our choices.'

Success in chess is the reward for careful, thoughtful strategy. But Doty also teaches the children how to learn from losing.

'I help the children learn how to accept the disappointment of not winning. I tell them, 'yes, it's disappointing', but I tell them that 'whenever I've lost, I try to learn from my mistakes'. When I lose, it is usually because I didn't have a vision of what was going to happen. It takes a lot of examining and questioning before you place a [chess] piece.'

'Pawns are lowly little foot soldiers. But if a pawn can avoid capture, and make it all the way across the board, that pawn can be promoted - become a queen, which is the most powerful position,' she says with a grin.

Today, Doty coaches Chess For Success for K-5 students at Woodstock Elementary School each Wednesday - 45 minutes before school, and for one hour after school. Several years ago she started her own Chess Academy - a special six-week course for kindergartners that takes place each April.

'In the fall, the kindergartners who have half day in Mandarin and half day in English have a lot on their plates. So I wait until the spring to introduce them to chess.'

Doty depends on volunteer parent help, and is not opposed to computer chess, which some students play at home. She believes computer chess helps hone skills, but she likes chess club because 'playing other humans' teaches social skills. 'It is good for them to connect across gender, grade and ability,' she observes.

Among the many skills that chess teaches is confidence. 'Kids come in, and are so afraid to make a mistake. But by the time they have one year of playing under their belts, they're taking risks, thinking through each move, and making the best possible choice - not holding back.'

This year, 52 schools and 2,100 children are participating in Chess for Success programs in Portland, David Douglas, Centennial, Parkrose, Reynolds, and Monmouth school districts.

At the same awards ceremony on March 4th, Portland Public School Board member David Wynde presented a $25,000 check on behalf of U.S. Bank to support Chess For Success, which he calls 'a great program.' He describes the check as 'one of the largest grants that the bank makes to a not-for-profit organization in Portland.'

To learn more about this program, go online to: www.chessforsuccess.org .