It's a Small World After All

Two years ago I helped chaperone the Iowa City West High School band trip to play at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Theme Park. I helped unload and reload equipment and uniforms. Later, when the students were set free in the park, they came back with sunburns, dehydration, and blisters. Without parents, high school students tend to forget to drink water, put on sunscreen, and wear proper shoes for walking 15 plus miles a day.


In my downtime, I was able to explore the park. One place I discovered was Tom Sawyer Island. For me, it was a place to relax and get some rest. The park for me was tiring, and a little noisy. I met many kids who got to the island, ran around, found there were not any rides or food, and then wanted to go back to the regular park. They would come to the dock as the only way to get there was by the Huck Finn Raft and wait 5-10 minutes until the raft would come get them and drop off the next batch of explorers.

I noticed a checkers board, and occasionally someone would play. I, personally, was resting in the rocking chair as I watched the world go by in the lagoon and on the other shore. It struck me! I could have a mini chess tournament on Tom Sawyer Island! I tucked the idea in the back of my head.


This year, I volunteered to chaperone again, and my idea resurfaced. I thought it would be good, but I had doubts. Should I contact Disney about my idea? Should I put a TLA in Chess Life? Should I contact local chess clubs or the Florida State Chess Association? I thought, hmmm, Disney would just be full of rules and they would never approve such a thing without tons of negotiation, and who would I talk to anyway about it. I didn’t put an advertisement in Chess Life, because maybe, just maybe I would get too many people and would not be able to accommodate so many players (I remembered there was one checkers table and I thought there was a picnic table but my memory was off and there was just the checkers table). So no advertisement. I looked online and saw there was an Orlando Chess Club with a chess instructor, Steven Vigil. I thought maybe Steven could be a long-lost cousin. I contacted him about the Idea a week before I came. He, too, thought it was a great Idea and offered to help advertise it on his website and in the area. I didn’t get around to sending him a TLA but look forward to meeting him in person at Super Nationals where he will be working at the US Chess Sales shop.


Thursday rolled around (the Iowa City West High Band’s free day), and I set out with a chess set in hand to go to my island of chess paradise. Along the way, I had to submit my chess set to Disney Security. “Chess Set?” they asked. I told them about my idea as they made sure my chess clock was not a bomb and they gave me the “To each his own” look. They were not chess people.


I made my way through the park. I stopped to get an espresso at the Starbucks on Main Street. Hey, every chess player needs a coffee right? At least adults anyway. I boarded the Huck Finn Raft Ferry and debarked on the island. I set my chess board up over the checkers board and relocated the checkers pieces. I was alone, so I sipped my espresso and read a book. About 15 minutes later, a family from Yorkshire England arrived on the dock to explore the island. Daniel and his sister saw the chessboard and started to play. I watched on as Daniel explained the game, albeit slightly incorrectly, to his sister. The Chess Coach in me couldn’t sit still, and I intervened to the delight of their parents. I then challenged Daniel to a match, and his parents kept asking questions about the game. Soon we had a crowd of young chess enthusiasts surrounding our game. The Huck Finn Ferry came and left and Daniel’s family kept at the chessboard. Many parents had to squelch the whines of their children “But mommy, I want to watch the chess game.” I was beside myself with joy as kids were asking to stay and watch a chess match at Disney!


After Daniel’s game was finished, a boy from Peru came and sat down. He and his parents didn’t speak English, and the game ended quickly. Next, Diego from near Mexico City arrived. He was an avid player and gave me a run for my money. At first I dismissed him as he played 3. ….h5. I thought the game was in the bag, but then he sprung a trap and grabbed my knight. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the game but battled back to a rook and three pawns versus two knights and a two pawns end game. Diego blundered, and I was able to promote a pawn. The beads of sweat were evaporating from my forehead as Mr. Jorgensen and I exchanged business cards, as I had just escaped defeat at the hands of his son.

As Diego left, Viviane from Chicago arrived. She was around 8 or 9 and didn’t know how to play. She and I went over the basics until Collin from Ocean City, New Jersey showed up and asked to play. Viviane stepped aside to watch as Collin started to play. Collin seemed to have great opening play, but as fate would have it, the Huck Finn Ferry arrived and Collin was pulled away. Viviane, Collin, and Collin’s mother shouted their thanks as they pulled away from the dock. Collin’s mother shouted “I can tell you are a professional teacher, the kids really enjoyed themselves.”


I blinked and 3 hours had passed by and I was due to check in with my group for lunch. I packed up my set and prepared to board the next Ferry for the Magic Kingdom Mainland. The Disney Tom Sawyer Island staff enjoyed my impromptu chess lessons as I overheard other guests asking if Disney was providing the chess lessons. I thought as I was riding the Ferry back, I just played chess with children from three continents of the world! Thank you, Disney, for my magical chess day at the Magic Kingdom. Next time I come, I want to play Goofy!

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