Oak Lawn teen is more than a chess champ
By Cheryl Dangel Bartolini Correspondent July 18, 2014 2:44PM
Andrew Gacek went 6-1 for Richards High School at the state chess meet. | Supplied photo by Bob McParland
Updated: August 22, 2014 6:13AM
When Richards High School’s chess team won the Illinois High School Association Class AAA chess championship this year, Andrew Gacek was there. In fact, he went 6-1 at the state tournament.
“I was proud of myself and the fact that I was able to support my team,” Gacek said of the win. “I felt like I was a big part of the team and the school as a whole.”
A relative newcomer to the game of chess, Gacek, 16, admits to knowing some of the rules and how chess pieces moved before entering high school, but he was never really that interested in the game. That all changed as a freshman.
“I started playing chess the moment I came into Richards. I went to the club and activities and it turned out to be good. I’ve been playing ever since,” he said.
Now, with two more years of high school to go, Gacek, who will be a junior at Richards, is just getting warmed up.
“I like how it is very competitive. No matter where you go, you can always find someone better than you, so you are always learning something new about the game that you can use for the next one,” he said. “For me, the game is always changing. My idea now about the game is different from last year, and the people you meet are just the best.”
Gacek also ranks No. 1 in his class and has earned Honors with Distinction, the highest academic honor a high school student can receive in Community High School District 218.
Gacek says his biggest mentor is his chess coach at Richards, Manuel Montes.
“He taught me a lot, and in my freshman year, he brought me to the varsity team and encouraged me to be better,” Gacek said. “He saw some potential in me. He is a teacher I can always count on to be there.”
In addition to chess, Gacek is the junior-varsity captain of the Scholastic Bowl team, plays tennis and is a member of mathletes. He also plays the trombone in jazz band.
“Band is different from chess,” he said. “I’m not the best at music but what I like to do in band is listen to the music. I like trying to hear all the little parts coming together and seeing how one part supports the melody.”
Gacek has two years to think about college and is already contemplating majoring in mathematics or computer science, “but I haven’t thought beyond that,” he said.
Gacek said thinking of his parents, Mary and Andrew Gacek, of Oak Lawn, helps keep him focused.
“This is the only chance I’ll have at school,” he said. “There are some people who aren’t as fortunate as me, like my parents. They didn’t have college available to them. They emigrated from Poland. They didn’t have as many opportunities and they moved here so I would have more opportunities here in America. So I stay focused on my grades at school so I can make them proud and show them, in my own way, that I appreciate them.”