Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Elementary Nationals Part Three: People Are Super-Weird to Me

A lot of people are really really nice to me at these tournaments, but a significant number of people seem really angry at me for reasons I mostly don't get at all. Three examples:

1. I Am Accused of Playing the System By Using Unfair Advantages
I haven't been to the elementarys in maybe 4 or 5 years, but ok I go this time and my first impression of the blitz tournament Thursday night is that it's a total zoo. Hundreds of tiny children run at breakneck speeds everywhere. Well-dressed chess moms all sit on carpeted floors. Everyone is talking very intensely to someone. I wander around, dazed and gaping, finally I start chatting with a New York parent I know slightly (I recognize the face but don't know the name, kid, or school). Everything seems just fine.

Then the parent coordfinator of PS 166 in New York comes up to me, visibly agitated.
"I have to let you know something," he begins, hands shaking. "The parents from my school are going to complain. We think it's very unfair that 318 is a junior high school and you are playing in an elementary tournament."
So I say, "But the section is K-6, and we are just playing sixth graders." I wasn't trying to be condescending, honestly, I just didn't understand what he was objecting to.
"But it's not fair, because they are junior high school kids. I just think it's really unfair."
So I tell him he should go to the TDs, that it was no problem for me and if his parents felt anxious it was better to clarify the rules. But he wouldn't stop trying to argue with me about it, implying I was consciously trying to trick everyone and that a 6-8 school in a K-6 program had an obvious large advantage. After a while I said something sharp to him and walked away, but I think this might be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Here's why:

I get to teach my students for 8.5 months; most K-6 coaches get to teach their students for SEVEN YEARS.

Now let's take a look at the rating progress of my K-6 team since they entered the school until the May supplement:
Alexis 1532-1721
Pobo 1141-1572
Myles 1210-1448
Orlando 0-1225
Brittanie 862-1409
Abadel 0-1226

So here you go, Mr. Parent: maybe we are not cheating your system; maybe we are just working harder?!

2. A Private School Coordinator Objects to My Predictions.
You know that guy in track suit pants who you always see hanging around but you never know who he is? He's my boss/ assistant principal/ assistant coach, John Galvin. I'm a big fan of Galvin--- he's a great boss, a very decent chess player (1650), and a good friend of mine.

So this coordinator woman goes up to him Sunday afternoon and complains about my CLO article predicting the Elementary Nationals results. She said all the parents at her school were outraged and she tries to argue that I should be fired for it. Of course she doesn't say a word to me about it all weekend, she just goes directly to my boss. Galvin keeps a straight face and suggests that she should leave a comment on the online article, to which she replies that she doesn't have time for such things.

Does she really think Galvin is going to fire me because she recommends it? Because, what, I'm implying there is a competitive element in all of this? You have to understand, this tournament is by far the most overtly competitive space I have ever been in. Parents stand in enormous viewing galleries 2 floors above the playing hall and peer down at their children-- hundreds and hundreds of them do this, pacing back and forth the whole entire game. You can't even see the positions. But they still stare desparately, as if by looking hard enough maybe it will magically come into focus, or maybe they'll be able to mentally transit a message of "make a good move" to their kid. It's really strange.

This is not something I created with predictions in a CLO article.

3. A Random Idiot Threatens Me With a Negative CLO Comment
Our return flight to Newark was cancelled because of bad weather on the East Coast, so we were forced to remain in Pittsburgh Monday night. Normally airlines don't put you up for the night when the delay/ cancellation is weather-related, but a little old lady at the check-in desk took pity and gave us 4 free hotel rooms and some meal vouchers. So it's all great fun; the kids are thrilled about missing anotehr day of school, we hang out in the Hyatt and have a blitz tournament/ watch a movie. Galvin runs into a Bronx team who are also stranded-- he tells them to ask for free rooms. They try but get told no.

So that evening I'm meeting the kids in the hotel lobby when Random Idiot asks if I have a minute. I don't really, but he's already started waving his hands at me, shouting, and demanding that I tell the story of the discrimination against the unfortunate team from the Bronx in the tournament report, and include the fact that ANOTHER TEAM got FREE HOTEL ROOMS. It's like he's implying I used some corrupt influence to get them.
At this point, I'm just trying to get away, so I say, "I don't really... do investigative reporting on ... airline cancellations?"
Then RI says "If you don't include it, I will tell the whole story IN A COMMENT!"
"I'm not doing the report on the tournament."
So then he says, almost triumphantly, "I will speak to Jennifer about this!"
You do that.

Anyway, that's all. I'm not trying to imply most people are unpleasant to me-- most people are super nice. Maddy Bender's mom, for example, is almost unbelievably chatty and friendly.
But, wow, I sure seem to rub some people the wrong way.


Anonymous said...


I really don't think you should be fired just because some of your predictions were, well...off the mark.

They were fun, and gave many of us at least a glimpse of the world of scholastic chess from the big apple vantage point.

best chess regards,

Greg Shahade said...

btw I like the idea that you should be fired because you wrote an article with some predictions, after the USCF (who runs the tournament) asked you and paid you to do so. Really brilliant. It's not like you made the predictions on your own personal website, but you made them on the USCF sanctioned site and they had no objection to put them on their website. However this unnamed coordinator thinks she is the boss of the National Elementary Championship and that you should obviously be fired from your job.

Also I can see how outraged all the parents are based on the huge number of negative comments to your article on the USCF website....oh wait...nevermind!

If that isn't the dumbest complaint I've ever heard I don't know what is. (oh wait....the one about your school shouldn't be able to play because you happen to not have a K-5th grade in your school is dumber).

These national tournaments bring out the ugliest parts of everyone. The other parents and coaches can be so jealous and vindictive of anyone who has success.


es_trick said...

There are knuckle heads in every crowd. I've heard some awful tales about parent conduct at Little League Baseball games, hockey, soccer, football, . . .
In theater, "stage mothers" are notorious.

Although I'm a pretty thin skinned person myself, and therefore uable to practice what I preach, try not to take those knuckle head comments personally.



Temposchlucker said...

Just tell the parents that their kids have talent and you have free beer the whole evening.

Tom Panelas said...

I have a feeling there’s a lot of free-floating antipathy toward I.S. 318 just because you’re successful. It’s the kind of resentment that logic and reason are powerless to dispel because it’s never really about what it’s ostensibly about. It has nothing to do with 6th graders or free rooms or wrong predictions.

It’s like people who refuse to believe that Barack Obama is not a Muslim, even though he’s not; or who insist his relationship with Jeremiah Wright disqualifies him from being president, while McCain’s chummy ties to wackos Hagee and Parsley are just fine. They can’t just come out and say they won’t vote for him because he’s black. Likewise, those parents can’t just come out and say they don’t like you because you win.

I’m still waiting longingly, by the way, to see my alma mater, P.S. 62, on one of these lists. I don’t know if they even have a chess team, but seeing the names of all those New York schools on the crosstables makes me nostalgic.

Let me close with one word in the defense of loony parents, and I’m sure my friend Chessdad64 will back me up on this: Having kids makes you crazy. Period. It just does. If anybody tells you otherwise, don’t believe her. From the day that first baby is born it’s an endless, daily journey of neurosis formation, and it only gets worse as the kids grow up.

Why do people have children, then? Because without them there would be no scholastic chess tournaments, and we’d all have to find something else to fight about.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this insight.
Several sad conclusions:

1. There are some seriously wacked out people who have children - probably one of the great inequities of life.
2. Add human competition, and nothing no matter how noble and worthy can be made low and twadry.
3. Unfortunately points 1 and 2 may explain why the adult chess world is the way it is. Some of these people and kids grow up and become chess officials.

Molly Schneider said...

Hi Elizabeth - First of all, I want to congratulate you and your team on your success in Pittsburgh. I hope you are having very much fun celebrating.

I want you to know that our team - Magellan Day School - had a lot of fun being mentioned in your prediction article. Our children responded positively to your "dark horse" label, and it brought nothing but smiles. We also appreciated the interesting and valuable preparation and preview articles. I read them to our team prior to making the trip. I was great to hear how bigger programs prepare. Thank you for generously sharing.

I wanted to share with you a response to your comment that about making a kid a 1600 in Wisconsin. The child to whom you are referring is a unique child whose love for chess drove him to read over 40 books about the game prior to ever playing in a tournament. That said, though, we are lucky in Wisconsin to have a great new (in its 5th year) organization in the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation. WSCF hosted over 25 tournaments this past scholastic season, with over 200 children participating in the larger tournaments. A great percentage of the 76 children representing Wisconsin at Nationals this year played in those tournaments. Participation in growing exponentially each year. Maybe - hopefully - we'll have more teams that make your radar in the future.

Thanks again for all the hard work that you do for the children and chess. Molly Schneider - Magellan chess mom

Gurdonark said...

By coincidence, I was in Pittsburgh last weekend due to a Friday/Monday business meeting set. When I got to the airport on Monday afternoon, I thought it was really great to see lots of people standing in the airport lines, bearing trophies that were a large-ish percentage of the height of each person carrying such a trophy.

I was flying west back to Texas, but had noticed that a lot of flights east were canceled. I am sorry that so many of you got stuck in the airport, as the flight west was smooth.

I applaud the competitive spirit in its purest forms, but I dislike it when people lose perspective sufficiently as to worry that your 6th grade kids attend a middle school. Although the Dallas area has a very active youth chess program, I am pleased that in the main such "chess parents" are less dominant here than might be the case otherwise.

I thought that your predictions article was great chess promotion.
It held my interest in an event that otherwise would not have sparked much interest.

I even thought about trying to see if an outsider could play in the "friends" adult side event, but I am glad, all things considered, I opted for the museums and a walk in Swissvale with a friend instead.

The "free hotel resentment" story is hard for me to understand, but perhaps the poor fellow did not realize that so much of dealing with airlines is about one's own charm and finesse', not to mention the airline's kindness.

I run the smallest chess club ever, whose tournaments frequently bring in "huge" crowds of 4, 12, or 19. I remember, now, why I have rarely aspired to run large events.

Anonymous said...

"Having kids makes you crazy. Period. It just does. If anybody tells you otherwise, don’t believe her. From the day that first baby is born it’s an endless, daily journey of neurosis formation, and it only gets worse as the kids grow up."

LOL - so true!

Loved the predictions and like Magellan mom sincerely appreciate your articles on best chess books for teaching, nationals prep, etc.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out. Congrats to 318 on another national championship. Next year, you'll have to factor in that whole Northwest Passage rating system into your predictions. I think the whole brouhaha about it not being fair that 318 is there because it's a grade 6 through 8 is a bit ridiculous. 6th graders are 6th graders, whether they go to a K-6 school or a 6-8 school or a K-12 school. As a veteran of 3 Elementary Nationals, 1 JHS National and 2 K-12 Nationals, I thought this one was particularly weird and not in a good way. Maybe it's me but the whole fishbowl aspect with parents lined up at those windows (many with binoculars! oy vey!) was way too intense for me. I felt very lucky to be able to hang out in our cocoon of a team room with our version of the Odd Couple yelling at our kids "don't give away your stuff" (in the nicest and sweetest possible way). The intensity of Elementary Nationals was jarring to me especially after going to JHS Nationals which was so calm, almost zen like in comparison. Is it because the kids at JHS Nationals are much more self sufficient so fewer hyper chess parents? They just went in, played their games and came out. The coaches seemed more relaxed in Dallas too. Maybe because they didn't have to "handle" all the intense chess parents. I remember walking to the first round of the K-1 section in Pittsburgh with my happy-go-lucky kindergarten chess player and overhearing a coach explaining accelerated pairings and their impact on her first time player's preliminary rating to another chess mom and I thought to myself "she'll never last." Next year we're all together in Nashville so I may have to buy myself a hoodie and ipod and sunglasses and pretend to be a middle school kid. . . . Cheers, Maddie's mom

Anonymous said...

I have had the privilege of watching your team this spring: JH nationals, All Girls Nationals and Elementary Nationals - You are doing an incredible job with these great kids!
Keep passing the pawns.

Chess Mom in Texas

Elizabeth Vicary said...

wow, I'm speechless. thanks, everyone.

Polly said...

I had to laugh at the idea that since you're 6-8 grade school that your sixth graders shouldn't be allowed to play in the elementary championship. Does that make them older then sixth graders in a K-6 school?

Bravo for getting the airline to give you rooms and meal vouchers. That's a rarity these days. Perhaps the RI couldn't get rooms and vouchers for his kids because he ranted at the airline people the same way he ranted at you?

DrewG said...

Rubbing people the wrong way seems to be a condition of life. No one is exempt. Pobody's nerfect! Keep in mind their rants are a reflection of them, not you. Folks with axes to grind often simply search for the nearest tree.

Anonymous said...

Cool.... I agree.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like BDK. His name is Jared. I saw him at subway.