This is my 4th year teaching high school at this small Catholic high school on the Navajo reservation. (It's huge--about the size of West Virginia; the largest reservation in area outside of Alaska, and those don't really count, anyway. The Navajo tribe is second-largest after the Cherokee in population.) When I got here, there was a nice large wooden chess set in one of the rooms, and a couple people started playing chess after school. I played with them, and after a semester of that, we decided to look into playing against other schools. After looking for information, we found out that the scholastic season in AZ is in the fall, so we had to wait until the next year. We did have an in-house tournament that year, just for fun.
The next year, we started playing scholastic chess with other schools. In northern AZ (essentially everything north of Phoenix--it's a rather large area) at the time, there were only 5 schools playing chess, so they welcomed us with open arms. We arrived at Tuba City (another Navajo school, and one with a rich tradition in chess--4 state championships in the last 20 years) with just 4 players, all freshmen and sophomores. Over 5 rounds (I believe this first tournament was an individual tournament), we earned 3.5 points. The team grew from there, with about 8 or 10 people attending the last tournament that year. We didn't get much better that year (that first tournament really opened our eyes to how much we needed to improve), but we did get more students.
Last year was our second year. We had a team of 10 students (which is about as many as we can bring to a tournament--5 varsity players and 5 JV players) consistently for every tournament. We traveled down to Phoenix and Tucson for invitationals as well as to all the regional schools. We did a bit better, winning a couple medals and individual awards. One student ran of an unbeaten streak of 9 or so matches at 3rd board, so I moved him to 1st board where he's been (and rather successful, too) ever since. A couple more medals for biggest upset in tournament showed our potential, although we hadn't reached it yet.
This year, we've improved in the region mostly due to the strongest players graduating. My freshmen and sophomores 3 years ago are juniors and seniors, with 2 years of experience under their belt. Last year's team, which was almost entirely juniors, was replaced with a much more balanced team age-wise, although much less balanced gender-wise as we lost all our girls. We have some of the top players in the region now (the #3 and #6 player in the region, although since there are only 7 schools in the region now, I'm not sure how good that is, exactly). There are 3 strong teams this year, and 4 weaker teams. Ours is one of the strong teams (along with Tuba City and Monument Valley, the other two Navajo teams in the region). The top 3 schools qualify for the state tournament, so we'll probably qualify for the first year. The top 6 individuals also qualify, and I hope to have 1 or 2 students qualify individually.
It's been great seeing the team mature and grow over the past 3 years, from 4 students winning 3.5 points in our first tournament to hosting a tournament last weekend, taking 1st in the varsity team section and 1st and 2nd in the JV individual section, and bringing 13 kids to play.
I, myself, had almost no experience with competitive chess before I started here. I think I took my little brother to a tournament once (and was scolded for kibbutzing the match--shame on me!), but that's about it. I'm learning with the kids, and some of them (our first board, certainly) have surpassed my skill in many respects. I'm challenged constantly to try to improve my game and through that, my students. I've started a collection of chess books, but haven't gotten the kids interested in reading the books on their own.
Anyway, I guess that's enough. Sorry for the length, but I'm proud of the kids, and it just kept gushing out. (An English teacher here wants me to write an article for newspapers about it. This is a start, I guess.)