DUNCANVILLE, Texas (AP) — Donald Harris isn’t a professional educator, but he’s about to teach somebody a lesson as he calls out like a carnival barker during a lunchtime chess session at Duncanville High School.
“Come on over!” he shouts to a passing student. “I’ll get you!”
The Dallas Morning News reports the Duncanville bus driver sets up shop in the cafeteria two or three days a week, spreading out an array of chess boards along a table. The table quickly fills with competitors — some taking on Harris, others playing against their friends.
“I was just going to teach one kid,” Harris said. “But then the principal came over and started taking pictures, and it just blew up.”
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Harris, who has driven a bus for the school district for nearly six years, likes to teach the cerebral game, all the while understanding that he’s just a novice himself. His chess education started only a month ago, when a student on his morning route caught his attention.
“This kid, he always made eye contact with me,” said Harris, 67. “So one day I just looked at him and asked, ‘Do you play chess?'”
Harris didn’t know how to play, either, but he decided that day that he would take up the game.
His first pupil got pretty good in a hurry, Harris said.
“He had beaten me three out of four times, but I got him today,” he said.
Principal Tia Simmons had an immediate reaction when she was on cafeteria duty one day and saw an older man with a school badge hunched over a chess board with another student.
“I said, ‘Oh, this is great!’ I snapped a photo and tweeted it out, saying something like, ‘Look at what our bus drivers do on their time off,’ and it got quite a bit of response,” Simmons said.
Once the crowds grew, Harris quickly realized he’d need some more chess boards. Now he purchases them regularly for $7 and gives them away to students.
“I just bought four today. I’m sure I’ll give those away, too,” he said.
During this lunch period, Harris faces Gerald Watson, a senior, while the other chess boards are occupied by students battling each other.
“How did you get way down there?” Harris says in a voice filled with wonder. “You’re gonna try and take my king!”
Watson, who started playing chess about a year ago when he saw two others playing, has quickly become a capable opponent.
“It makes you think, kind of like life,” Watson said. “And it helps me with my mood.”
Watson’s mood must have been pretty good judging by the results against Harris. The student’s side of the table is littered with Harris’ fallen chess pieces, while the bus driver’s side only has one — and later, three — of Watson’s pieces.
“This guy is good, OK?” Harris says to no one in particular. “Man, I am telling you!”
While chess conjures up images of silent combatants eyeing the board like a battlefield, Harris talks constantly during his matches as his students play the part of silent thinkers.
“He was quiet, and I’m talking: ‘Wow, boom, bam!'” Harris said, referring to another student competitor, Pablo Ramirez — the first student Harris picks up on Bus No. 55 at 6:30 a.m. each day.
“Chess is quiet, quiet, quiet, like being on a golf course,” Harris said. “But I’m not that way. I don’t know if it comes from teaching or not, but I just do it.”
Although he squares off against many students who know and understand chess better than he does, Harris relishes the chance to introduce newcomers to the game.
“Chess is not a quick study,” he said. “I go online to watch other games. I watch the openings, learn how to hit them with a sucker punch. You learn how to camouflage certain moves. I love hearing, ‘Hey, I didn’t notice you doing that!'”
But mostly, Harris does it to make the students feel good about themselves.
“It keeps these kids focused on education,” said Harris, who also drives a shuttle to Dallas Love Field during the week and a limousine on Saturdays. “You want to give them some inspiration outside of the norm.
“But I’m not a teacher, I’m not a parent. I’m just Mr. Don.”
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com