When Chicagoans hear the names Palermo’s, Giordano’s, Chesden’s, and Falco’s, pizza comes to mind. Delicious Chicago-style pizza. My thoughts turn to chess. Pizza always reminds me of my days as a high school athlete at Gage Park High School. Okay, I didn’t actually play any sports that involved physical activity at Gage Park, but I did letter in chess and our chess team was awarded athletic letters the athletes award ceremony. For some reason unbeknownst to me, chess was even covered in Sports Illustrated back then.
Anyway, I played chess on the chess team at Gage Park High School with Jim Harmon, Vito Vitkauskas, Dave Johnson, Bill Rozivics, Ted Rafacz, and Nick Polo. We were coached by Mr. Crowe, who also coached the hockey team. I suppose tenacity and mental toughness is required for both chess and hockey, so Mr. Crowe was the perfect coach for both sports. I think he liked the hockey team better, though. He used to brag about how smart the hockey team was. And he would tell us every time a hockey player got a college scholarship. The chess team was a bunch of slackers by comparison. One time, Mr. Crowe complained because two chess players were suspended and couldn’t play in an important chess match. Bill was suspended for low grades, even though he could recite the atomic chart from memory. And I was suspended for fighting. As a member of the chess team, bullies liked to pick on me, but I always fought back. I didn’t know you could get suspended for self-defense. To school officials, fighting was fighting and that warranted a suspension.
But back to the pizza. In order to inspire us to play better chess, Mr. Crowe promised to take us out for pizza every time we won a chess match. If we lost, we had to treat him to a steak dinner. We complained that this wasn’t fair because steak was more delicious and more expensive than pizza. But since he was the coach, we finally agreed with the arrangement reluctantly because he insisted that he was buying a meal for seven chess players while we were only treating one person.
I don’t remember how many matches we won or how many times Mr. Crowe treated us to pizza, but I do remember the one time we lost the match and we went to Chesden’s on Archer Avenue for Mr. Crowe’s steak dinner. We barely had enough to pay for his steak dinner, so we didn’t order pizza for ourselves. But Mr. Crowe was so kind as to keep asking the waitress to keep replenishing the bread baskets. All we ate was bread and water while Mr. Crowe savored a juicy t-bone steak. He insisted that he was teaching us to become better chess players!
The other memorable event of this day was the snowball fight afterward. As we were walking to Mr. Crowe’s car, we started throwing snowballs at each other. Since we were always very competitive, we chose up sides and began battling in earnest. Suddenly, Ted said that he lost his school ring while throwing a snowball. We must have looked for that ring for about an hour in the snow, in the dark, before we finally found it.
So whenever I think of pizza, my thoughts turn to my days on the Gage Park Chess Team!