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Adam J. Holland


Mitsubishi Chemical-SoarnoL engineers Reggie Delaney and Jerry Curtis can hardly wait for Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. That’s when they have the opportunity to share their love of chess with students at La Porte ISD’s College Park Elementary School, where the company is the campus’s Partner in Education.

In September 2023, Delaney approached College Park principal Camilla Whitlock and assistant principal Eva Galvan with the idea of starting an after-school Chess Club. They were excited about the prospect, and a survey was sent to parents to determine interest.

“At that first meeting, we had 14 students,” Delaney said. “Week after week, they kept coming back with more!” Today, 24 students in grades second through fifth are on the Chess Club roster.

“They’re excited, they’re engaged, and they are retaining the information,” Delaney added. And that makes him proud.

Delaney, who serves as manager of process technology at Mitsubishi Chemical, is joined by his friend and colleague Jerry Curtis, director of engineering, in teaching the students about chess.  Each Thursday, they arrive with an armload of snacks and a planned lesson to help students develop their knowledge and love for the game. Fourth-grade teacher Brandon Gonzalez serves as the club sponsor.

“At the first meeting, everyone introduced themselves; this showed them that we value what they have to say and allowed a focus on each individual,” Delaney said. “That helped to build a rapport, because once they are comfortable, they are more receptive to the information.”

Twelve chessboards are centered on tables throughout the classroom, where the club members excitedly gather after the dismissal bell rings. Curtis claps his hands in a rhythm that signals the children that it’s time to listen, and the children clap in the same rhythm in response. The room becomes quiet, and Delaney delivers a quick lesson before the students begin their practice games.  The children talk quietly with their opponents in between moves, getting up only to grab a quick snack from a table at the front of the room. 

Delaney and Curtis make their way around the room, responding to raised hands and answering questions that students have about their next moves. Curtis kneels down so that he’ll be on eye-level with the students who have questions. Delaney, who is often called “Mayor” at work because of his friendly, outgoing personality, chats easily with students throughout the classroom. It’s obvious that they are in their element, loving the game and loving the opportunity to share it with the next generation.

“Chess is not only entertaining, but it helps provide life skills,” said Curtis, noting that chess sharpens the logic used in considering that actions result in consequences. Delaney and Curtis also emphasize that the etiquette required in chess--such as greeting your opponent, showing respect for the competition, and demonstrating good sportsmanship—can also be applied to all areas of life.

Delaney learned to play chess at eight years old when his first cousin, who played every Friday night with a friend, taught him the basics.  Delaney found it “captivating,” and soon taught his neighborhood friends to play. He continued to play through high school and college. Curtis also learned to play chess in elementary school, and although he focused on baseball and football during his school years, was reintroduced to the game by Delaney.

Teaching the game comes naturally to Delaney and Curtis, perhaps because they both come from families of educators. Delaney’s 80-year-old father, known by students and staff as “Poppa D,” continues to serve as dean of students at Thomas County Central High School in Georgia, where the gymnasium bears his name. Curtis’s wife worked with children with behavior issues for many years, and he was also a long-time coach of several youth sports teams.

Both men also have children and grandchildren, and they understand just how much having positive male role models means for children.

“That’s what motivates us,” Curtis said.

Giving back to others is part of the company philosophy at Mitsubishi Chemical. Delaney and Curtis explained that their volunteer efforts are in keeping with the company’s focus on the KAITEKI philosophy. KAITEKI is a Japanese word that means “comfort” for people, society and the Earth, and it is included in the company’s purpose statement: “We lead with innovative solutions to achieve KAITEKI, the well-being of people and the planet.”

Site manager Brian Kinkopf has been a driving force behind the company’s volunteerism in local schools. A long-time member and former president of the La Porte Education Foundation Board of Directors, Kinkopf also serves on the La Porte ISD Partners in Education Advisory Board.

“Mitsubishi Chemical - SoarnoL actively champions education by supporting teachers and students at College Park Elementary through the Partners in Education program,” Kinkopf said. “We foster teacher engagement by providing occasional special meals, encourage literacy through interactive reading sessions with students, offer support via gift cards to recognize excellence, and contribute to extracurricular development by initiating the chess club. Our commitment extends beyond financial contributions, as we inspire our employees to volunteer, creating a collaborative and impactful partnership that enhances the educational experience for both teachers and students.”

At the most recent Chess Club meeting, students received their brackets for the upcoming spring tournament, which will give them the chance to use the strategies they have learned this year.  The children are excited about the chance to compete with their fellow club members over several weeks.

Some of the students have shared their love for the new pastime at home, and for at least one family, playing a game of chess has become a before-bedtime ritual. That’s exactly what their chess teachers like to hear. As Delaney said, “We hope that we are generating fond memories for these students as well as teaching them valuable life skills.”    

“We are so happy to have the Chess Club at College Park,” said Whitlock.  “It continues to grow in popularity among our students in grades two through five. We have students with a broad range of knowledge, ranging from novice to experienced. Students are learning how to think critically, problem-solve, and make decisions.  The Chess Club has provided our students valuable opportunities that will benefit them as they become contributing members of our community.”