Holdrege YMCA Revives Kids Chess Club

Kids are learning strategy and critical thinking skills while taking a break from screen time in the YMCA’s revived Chess Club.

After seven years of not having a chess club, YMCA Executive Director Brett Bebensee and Sports Program Director Joel Pelster decided to reintroduce this important youth development program.

“We wanted to bring back chess because both Joel and I love the game,” Brett said. “We wanted to help introduce one of the most popular board games to a digital generation.”

Chess Club was popular at the YMCA 15-20 years ago when former director Jeff Morgan started the program.

One of the kids in that program was Patrick Blake.

“My husband taught Patrick to play chess when he was pretty little, and he took to it very quickly,” Patrick’s mother, Jane, said. “He loved the challenge and strategy of it, and the fact that it was kings, queens and knights battling one another appealed to him as well.”

The Blakes lived in Holdrege from 1997 until 2006.

Patrick Blake

“Patrick was a member of the original chess club that Jeff Morgan started,” Jane said. “He loved playing different opponents. One of his favorite ways of playing chess was when Jeff would have them start at one board, then after about 5 minutes or so everyone would rotate around to the next board, so you’d have a new board, new opponent, and a new strategy depending on what you found on the current board…he loved the challenge of that!”

Patrick won the YMCA’s 2005 chess tournament.

The Blakes moved to Minnesota in 2006. Patrick died in 2008 at age 13.

The Blakes decided to use some of Patrick’s memorial money to purchase high-quality chess board sets for the Holdrege YMCA Chess Club. In December 2008, the YMCA had a Patrick Blake Memorial Chess Club in his memory.

“Patrick had spent most of his life in Holdrege and still had so many friends there,” Jane said. “They were an important part of his life, and we wanted to acknowledge that and include them in the memorials.”

Those chess sets are the same ones still being used today in the YMCA’s revived chess club.

“I love that they’re still being used,” Jane said. “That was my hope when we donated them. I hope it gives kids who have never played an opportunity to try it out and gives kids who already play a place to share their love of the game and hone their skills.  I also love that it gives kids the chance to play face-to-face with one another in a group setting.”

Jane said she’d like to thank Darrin and Lori Swanson and their family for helping get the chess sets to the Y and for sponsoring the Memorial Chess Tournament in Patrick’s name.

“Patrick and Austin (Swanson) were great friends from the time they were preschoolers, and we so appreciate all they’ve done to keep Patrick’s memory alive,” Jane said.

Brett said eight participants enrolled in the YMCA’s Chess Club this spring. The club met on Tuesdays in March from 4:30-5:30 p.m. and was for children and teens ages 5-14.

“Chess develops critical thinking and strategic skills,” Brett said. “Though what I really like about this program is that it brings kids together, in person, to build relationships.”

Brett said all levels of chess players are welcome.

“What is nice about having a wide range of skills in the class is how the more skilled ones gravitate toward helping the younger chess players,” he said.

The YMCA Chess Club will be offered again soon. Watch the YMCA’s Facebook page and website for more details.  



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