I had a good day yesterday. The weather was great and I played in my tennis club championships. Afterwards I was in the clubhouse enjoying a chat with club doyen Hayden Rees, who is a selector for the Tennis Victorian Pennant Teams Competition. I enquired how the entries were going for the coming season and Hayden lamented that the slow downward trend was still continuing. Whilst senior numbers were holding up well it seems that the number of young players interested in playing in a team tennis competition was falling. Why was this we pondered?

When we were young team tennis was all the rage, but these days good juniors tend to play in tournaments (chasing ranking points) rather than team events and so the culture of tennis as a team sport is declining.

I know that the Interschool Chess Competition has recently started for 2009 so I wonder how chess is faring as a team sport.

When I was at school the Interschool competition then was played on a home and away basis for teams of 5 players and we played after school. This involved conscripting a teacher or parent to drive the team to the match and take the players home again … a big undertaking. My school was fortunate in that we had a Maths Master, the fearsome Mr.Greenaway, who was interested in chess and who gave up his time to ferry us around. He lived in Brighton and used to joke about having to drive me home to the far outer suburb of Mt.Waverley (!) which was, he kept reminding me, on the outer edge of civilization. Mr.Greenaway liked to push the boundaries and I remember one fearful trip home where we were approaching a “T” intersection and he asked “which way do I go?” Sitting in the back seat I naively pointed to the right and said “there”, however not being able to see from the front seat where I was pointing Mr.Greenaway continued straight ahead and we ended up in someone’s front yard!

The Interschool Competition though was great fun. We started off in “C” grade then won that and moved up to “B” grade which we won also. In my final year we took out the “A” Grade Schools Premiership which was a big thrill for the chess club. Thirty-five years later Mr.Greenaway still had a photo of that winning team proudly displayed on his office wall.

I think that team sport helps build up school spirit and to develop friendships among team members. There is also the aspect of healthy rivalry around where the players rank in the team and this encourages everyone to improve.

In subsequent years I played a lot of Interclub Chess for my club Waverley, where I guess I took over the role of Mr.Greenaway and had to ferry my team members home after matches in the Melbourne Chess Club in town, going to such far outer suburbs as Croydon to drop off Matthew Klugmann, which must surely be on the far outer edge of civilization! One of the best things about team competition is that you get to meet and play against different people rather than just your school or club buddies who you play all the time. One of my Interclub opponents was an old Latvian guy named Karlis Ozols who was a former Australian Champion and railway worker and had huge hands which almost crushed you when you shook hands before the game. In later years we found out that he was an accused Nazi war criminal who may have been responsible for atrocities in Latvia during the second world war!

The other aspect of team sport of course is the pride you feel in representing your team/school/club/country. I have many fond memories of playing for Australia in the Chess Olympiads wearing a shocking green and gold tracksuit (our team uniform) and having the nation’s chess players follow the team’s successes and failures. Playing for yourself in an individual tournament is OK but playing for your team is GREAT!

The Chess Kids Interschool Championships 2009 are now underway (visit chesskids.com.au and press “interschool”) with a variety of venues and dates to choose from. Why don’t you check it out and have your school enter a team? You too can experience the thrill of TEAM CHESS.

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