By Tricia Hill
About 18 months ago I accepted a Facebook friend request from a very enthusiastic man you may have heard of: Fun Fong. I thought it would be harmless, right? So I lurked upon his posts, somewhat unsure why he had so much passion for this game of chess that my youngest daughter had recently expressed interest in playing. He posted pictures of bins full of chess sets, clocks, printers, binders, and GCA banners, and I saw several requests to help him clean out some “GCA warehouse.” And I was greatly amused at his “Bitstrip” cartoons that paired his love for chess with his obviously close friendships he had acquired with other chess playing enthusiasts along the way.
Then one day, while I was vacationing at the beach last summer, his Facebook post called out a request for one or two volunteers to join the GCA Scholastic Committee. Being relaxed and feeling commitment-free on vacation, I suddenly found myself clicking the comment button and saying that I was interested. Two weeks later I was sitting at The Flying Biscuit off Paces Ferry surrounded by mostly unfamiliar faces and trying to keep up with the swift banter about tournament preparations and pretending to understand what was meant by a “Game 30 with a 5 second delay, Swiss Style pairings.” Susan Justice, one of the few people I was already acquainted with, was kind enough to offer me several sympathetic looks, of which I was appreciative and felt need of at the time. Through the power of enthusiasm (and maybe a little craziness), I agreed to help Ben Johnson coordinate the QuickStart!, the first GCA scholastic tournament of the year. And so it began.
Now, one year later, I am the Chair of the GCA Scholastic Committee for the 2014-15 year and Coordinator for three of its upcoming tournaments, including the 1000+ player Qualifier in February 2015. Why? The GCA is a not-for-profit organization so my time is primarily voluntary. We meet every month for two hours and it’s never enough time to plan all that we need or want to do. We all work diligently in between meetings to ensure contracts are completed, insurance is purchased, volunteers are available and assigned, tournament registration and player information is accurate, tables and chairs are ordered and set up, a myriad of food is available, and tournament setup and take down are sufficiently staffed with able personnel. The tournaments are all-day events, on-your-feet running (sometimes literally!) from Tournament Hall to Skittles to Informatics and around and around again. Computers freeze, wireless networks get overloaded and go down, discrepancies arise, and, of course, everyone’s favorite question we constantly field: “WHEN ARE THE PAIRINGS GOING TO BE UP?!”
And you know what? I love it.
I love it because of the people that I work with on the committee and in the GCA organization. These volunteers pour their energy, their resources, and their time to try to continually make operations run smoothly, provide parents and players with the best possible information, and (perhaps most importantly) make for a fun day that the kids will enjoy and remember.
I love it because my daughter loves helping me volunteer and sees firsthand the value in volunteering. She assists in setting up boards before the tournament, running with me as I transfer questions and answers to and fro, and enjoys getting to know all the people involved with the tournament operation, which makes her feel more at home and, I think, play better in the tournaments.
I love it because of the people I’ve met in the chess community: Alonso Zapata, Carlos Perdomo, Damir Studen, Frank Johnson, Jim Mundy, Elena Gratskaya, Jayashree Sekar, Joe Couvillion, Bella Bellacheck, Chris Ferrante, Susan Breeding, and so, so many others all contribute to the success of many of the scholastic events. Some volunteer time for simuls during tournaments, others perform TD duties or run informatics (the computer software system). Some others you may never see or hear of, but help to support the dynamics of the operation.
I love it because of the continual contact with parents and players. We see each other not only at the GCA tournaments but at other local non-GCA and even national tournaments. We share our joy when the kids are playing well and offer a kind word when things aren’t going so well. I love it when “one of our GCA kids” sees me at a non-GCA tournament (especially National ones!) and we catch eyes and knowingly smile. I try to offer a good luck and, occasionally, they will even ask me a question, which of course I go and find the answer to if I’m able. I like thinking that I might make a kid’s tournament maybe just a little bit better in seeing a familiar face, getting a question answered promptly, or in just giving them a thumbs up before a round or after a win.
So as we head into this new season, I’d like to thank the steady and committed volunteers of the GCA Scholastic Committee: Laura Doman, Katie Hartley, Ben Johnson, Susan Justice, Tim Payne and Ted Wieber. What a competent and talented group!
It’s not always easy and some things can and do go wrong, but the benefits far outweigh the obstacles. If you are the parent of a scholastic player, I hope you will consider volunteering at an event this year or even joining our Scholastic Committee to find out firsthand how much friendship, laughter, and satisfaction is really involved with preparing and running a GCA scholastic chess tournament. Come on, those days can be long, can’t they? Guess what? Not if you are part of the action!
Our first scholastic tournament for the year is the QuickStart! on Sunday, October 5th at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center hotel (near Perimeter mall). The first rated tournament is Sunday, November 9th (Grade Levels), which is also at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center hotel. Volunteers for individual tournaments can sign up during the registration process. For each adult volunteer, one free tournament registration is offered.
(And a quick note for the scholastic girls: I’d like to encourage you to attend the upcoming Georgia Women’s Open in September. Go to www.georgiachess.org for more information and to register.)
I look forward to seeing you at the GCA scholastic tournaments this year!