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'We are the land of the misfit toys': JCPS chess club helps students find success beyond the board

Chess clubs at schools like Valley High are helping students to gain much more out of their high school experience.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Only a chess coach, who also happens to be a football coach, could turn a team of misfit players into pros.

As Ron Hennig says, "We are the land of the misfit toys."

He coaches the chess team at Valley High School. Once a week, he opens his classroom to everyone who's interested in playing chess. 

On Monday night that room was filled with players from the Portland neighborhood to Valley Station.

Joseph Thomas, a Valley senior, said he's gained a lot from the activity.

"I don't know if I would be friends with anyone I'm friends with now if I didn't join chess," Thomas said.

Beyond that, playing chess with the football coach has helped him to eat healthier, work out, and even handle loss. 

"It doesn't seem like chess would cause that but chess has such a butterfly effect. You meet new people and those people change your life," he said.

"You just never know what will spark a student," Leslie Hennig said. She's the coach at Conway Middle School. They've won every regional since 2015.

Her students end up attending Valley and continuing on in chess. The high school has been National Champions and JCPS District Champions twice since 2015.

Teddy Hennig is a student at Valley (in addition to being Leslie and Ron's son). He said, "We have plenty of wins trust me, I mean behind you is a trophy case. What I really enjoy about being in this specific chess organization is being with my friends."

Teams across Louisville are looking to expand their programs and reach diverse communities. 

For more information on chess in JCPS you can reach out to Valley's coach Ron Hennig 502-641-7916.

For more on the program in the Portland neighborhood, contact Fork Knights Chess Club at (502) 457-4938.

 Contact reporter Tom Lally at TLally@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter.  

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