“Chess is more than a board game,” stated Strom Thurmond High School senior James Bilbrey. “It is a game of mental warfare, where you take the weakest pieces and find their strengths.”

Bilbrey participates in a chess class led by STHS history teacher Thomas Valois. “The students are very enthusiastic,” commented Valois, who encourages students to improve their strategy and often presents opening moves as class bell ringers. Chess is a non-credit class offered during the STHS Rebel Recon period, where students can explore interests outside of the traditional classroom.

STHS ninth grader Lucas Wise learned chess over several years of playing with his father and brother. Wise shared that through the class he has “learned several opening strategies,” and he sees chess as a game he will play for the rest of his life. “It keeps your brain working,” he added.

Colton Turner, an STHS junior, commented that horticulture is his favorite class, but he enjoys the chess class as well. “I can use my imagination. It’s interesting. It’s like war,” Colton shared.

Jennifer Cristino, an STHS ninth grader, is one of only two girls in the class. “I choose chess for Rebel Recon because I wanted to learn something new,” Cristino said. She had never played before joining Valois’ class. “I like chess because it is entertaining and fun. It is a strategic game that makes you use your brain,” added Cristino.

During the first semester, Valois hosted a class tournament. Bilbrey, who – like Wise – grew up playing chess with his brother and father, finished the contest on top. He explained that practice and experience equal success: “My brother and I played a lot of chess, and we got better and better. I enjoyed experimenting with it, trying new moves.” Bilbrey continued, “Chess is a mind game. It is playing strategically in the future, not in the present. You’ve got to set up the game strategically, so you can capture the king.” Bilbrey went on to say, “Chess teaches structure, organization, and mental strength. I have all these pieces, and I must build up to the main goal of capturing the king. Through structure and organization I can set small goals to achieve my major goal of winning the game.”

The chess class recently purchased t-shirts, which work to unify the members as well as advertise their interest in the game. Valois points to Wise and STHS ninth grader Josh Coursey who spear-headed the t-shirt drive. As a result of their efforts, donations were sufficient to cover t-shirts for the entire class. “It’s a great class, and I look forward to it every day,” said Valois.