Annual Chess Tournament A Thanksgiving Tradition At Nauset High

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Nauset Regional School District , Nauset Regional High School

Mason Santos, 15, left, and Justin Cappello, 15, compete as part of last week’s eighth annual Miles Tibbetts Chess Tournament at Nauset Regional High School. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS -- Miles Tibbetts not only played chess, he tried to share his love of the game with others.

Miles, who was fatally struck by a car in August 2013 while riding his bike to work along Route 6, would tutor elementary school students in chess at the Wellfleet Library. Now more than eight years after his death, his love of chess continues to spread through Nauset Regional High School.

On Tuesday, close to 100 students packed the high school cafeteria for the school's eighth annual Miles Tibbetts Chess Tournament. Played each year on the last day of classes before Thanksgiving break, the event has not only stirred up student interest in the game, but has offered those who knew Miles a way to remember him.

"For me anyway, it's turned out to be a very therapeutic way of keeping his memory alive and for getting into the Thanksgiving spirit of being grateful and thankful for what you have," said Sean Mulholland, a Latin teacher at the high school who had Miles as a student.

Mulholland remembers Miles as a "very gregarious, very well-known and well-liked" student. But it wasn't until after his death that he learned about his fondness for chess. After that, the inaugural tournament was held in November 2013.

The success of the tournament led to the formation of the high school's chess club soon after. From there, an official Nauset chess team was created in 2018. The team competes as part of the South Coast Interscholastic Chess League against teams including Sturgis, Martha's Vineyard and Wareham.

Mulholland said anywhere from 12 to 20 students show up to chess club meetings, while eight of those players comprise the chess team. The team is led this year by senior Tye Moore, who in addition to captaining the team also serves as chess club president.

"Tye competes in chess tournaments all over the state," Mulholland said. "He goes to Boston and has played in tournaments there. He's not a grandmaster or anything like that, but he's seen grandmasters play. He's interested in that and he follows that."

Moore, 17, a resident of Eastham, said he first started playing chess in the second grade. While he got away from playing for a few years, he picked it up again in eighth grade and hasn't looked back.

"I just started playing again and had a lot of fun," he said, "and I've been playing ever since."

Mulholland also grew up around the game. His father was a rated player, but his interest in chess waned until he began playing again for fun in college.

The joy in overseeing both the club and team at Nauset, he said, comes from watching his students and players thrive.

"Some of these kids by their nature are good at thinking through several moves of the game," he said. "They have that kind of mind."

There are also social benefits to chess that Mulholland said have been good for his players, especially given how COVID-19 has made socializing and sharing space more difficult over the past 18 months.

"Especially now after the pandemic, being able to congregate a little bit and to have a reason to be together with other people is a good thing," he said. "It's hard for some kids, and it gives them a reason to be part of something."

As president and captain, Tye said his goal is to create a sense of belonging for everyone involved, regardless of skill level. Some students play chess for the competition, he said, while others see it as an opportunity simply to enjoy themselves.

"I enjoy seeing people improve and try to be the best they can be at chess," he said. "I try to foster an environment where everyone is comfortable. You don't necessarily have to be the best player. We accept everyone that walks in. We want to help them improve, but if they're just there to have fun, that's also great."

By his own admission, Mulholland is a "middle of the road" chess player, and he freely admits that some of the more advanced players that have come through Nauset can beat him. But that's all part of the fun, he said.

"I love to see them work at something they have so much success with and enjoy it."

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com