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Chessboards for Jack

“Mr. Lochel – we have a check to send to you. Please provide us an address.”

What a fantastic e-mail I received this past year. It combines two wonderful things – money, and people wanting to send money to me. But this money was coming from a very special place.

In 2017, a talented, driven group of students at my high school participated in the Moody’s Mega-Math Challenge. In this annual math modeling contest students are provided a prompt and 14 hours to develop a framework for a solution. The contest is now sponsored by MathWorks, and you can learn about the contest and resources for getting your students involved at the contest website. The team earned an honorable mention award for their solution – and a $1,000 prize to be split amongst the team members. Not a bad way to close out their math careers in our district, and on to bigger and better things!

The 2017 Math Challenge Team: Principal Dennis Williams with Quinn, Jack, Mathew, Jason and Dmity.

Jack enrolled at Dartmouth University in the fall of 2017. Like most students who move on to college, I had limited contact with Jack after he left high school. And similar to many of my colleagues here who were part of Jack’s life, I was gutted when I learned of his passing in 2019.

Fast-forward to last spring, when the nice folks at the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics informed me that 2 years after winning his prize for the modeling contest, Jack hadn’t cashed the prize check. After contacting his family, the funds were donated to the high school math club. A wonderful gesture, but math club really doesn’t require much funding….so what to do with found money? How best to honor Jack’s legacy at our school?

Chess.

Red and Black week chess tournament. Jack is seated at the center table, in black.

I’m not sure what percentage of Jack’s down time at our high school was spent playing chess, or even how much time was spent playing chess when he was supposed to be working on something else, but it was a solid amount. But if you observed Jack playing chess you quickly realized the game was secondary. Having a conversation, thinking deeply, learning about someone new – these were the important residuals of a chess board.

I used the donated money to purchase as many nice-ish chess boards as possible and worked with our HS guidance department to generate a list of teachers Jack worked with during his time in our district. This past week I organized 8 boards including a note about Jack encouraging players to make a new friend and enjoy a conversation through chess. Four of Jack’s former teachers received chessboard gifts, and classrooms all the way down to 4th grade will have a new set to enjoy. I hope the wonderful culture of caring about others and getting to know someone new through chess which Jack embraced will live on through these boards.

Getting the boards ready for delivery.

I hope you find these resources helpful for learning more about Jack and helping individuals and families in your own community who struggle with mental illness.

Jack Duffy 5K Run

NAMI – Montgomery County PA

Liv Associates

Thanks Jack.

By Bob Lochel

HS Math Teacher. Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham, PA.

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