Isolated Hawke's Bay school rides high on Dark Horse legacy
The shadow of chess champion Genesis Potini looms large over a small provincial Hawke's Bay school.
Twelve years ago Potini, the subject of last year's film Dark Horse, sparked a love for chess in the students of Nuhaka school and during the last decade the board game has become part of the school's curriculum.
These day Nuhaka, a tiny settlement on State Highway Two between Wairoa and Gisborne, has been producing some of Hawke's Bay's top chess players.
Hawke's Bay Chess spokesman Bernard Carpinter said the school of 125 pupils had performed well in the regional competition during the past five years but this year had been exceptional.
"The school certainly punches well above its weight," Carpinter said.
At the Hawke's Bay regional junior chess competition, held on October 30, the school took out the 'most successful school' title.
Pharus Paewai, 8, won the year three division, just ahead of classmate Tevita Pasikala. Hyrum Ormond, 8, came first in the year four division and Grace Kuil, 10, came second in the year five division.
Grace became interested in the game as a five-year-old when Potini came to Nuhaka to tutor older children.
She said her aim in each game was to "control the centre" and estimated she played 10 games each day as practice.
"When you win you feel all pumped up and excited, and when you lose you think 'lets just get on with the next game'."
Pharus started playing chess a year ago because his older brother won the school's Dark Horse award for being the top chess player.
In 2003, Potini, who died in 2011, asked the school's principal Nick Chapman if he would be interested in a chess workshop for students.
Chapman accepted the offer and the pupil's passion for the game grew until it became a classroom staple.
He said five and six-year-olds started out playing checkers. When they turned seven children began learning chess, and when they finish as 12 and 13-year-olds most could beat their parents and teachers.
"In the real world kids need strategies and they need to be able to 'future think' which chess gives them."
Teachers set aside time each week for students to play.
"They think 'great we get to play games' but we know it's still learning," Chapman said.
The skills learnt from chess were reflected in the ability of many of the top students who achieved well above the national average for mathematics, he said.