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Students at Layton Junior High get their game on

Published December 6, 2012 2:13 pm

After-school club • Teacher Stephen Olson loves sharing his passion for board games.
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Layton • Growing up, Stephen Olson loved board games — all kinds of board games.

He played them with his family and friends. When he went to college at the University of Utah, he started a board game club with fellow students.

Eventually Olson's friends gave up board games for girlfriends, wives, children and other activities, and the club died out. But Olson's love for games never diminished.

Fast forward to 2012, and Olson is a math teacher at North Layton Junior High. It's his first year on the job, and he discovered there is no math club, so he volunteered to supervise one. He then discovers there is no chess club. It's one of the few board games he doesn't love, so he asked his administration if he could have a combination chess and board game club.

They consented.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, the board game club meets after school from three to five. Olsen is a happy teacher—he gets the chance to play board games and share his knowledge and love of the game with students.

Olsen visited his parents' home and retrieved an assortment of his favorite games from youth including Ingenious, Small World and Tsuro. Other students play trading card games and still others play chess.

"I can't resist playing games," Olson said. "I play while I'm correcting papers."

The games help students with reassigning skills and logic. Small World teaches them about combination and how things can synergize or work against one another. Olson said the students also have to learn to put on their poker faces when playing.

While the majority of game playing is friendly, tension can break out.

"Small World gets a little heated," Olson said.

Seventh-grader Alex Chipman loves the structure of board games.

"I have Asperger's so this is one of the few times I can open up and enjoy myself," said Alex, who flits around the room checking out all the games. "I don't like it when people don't follow the rules. Here I don't have to worry about people going against the rules because if they don't follow them, the game won't work."

Alex's father, David Chipman, is a resource teacher at North Layton Junior High. He enjoys having Alex participate in the club. "It keeps him occupied and forces him to interact socially," he said. "I think it gives the kids a way of expressing their own personality without having to be afraid of what anybody else thinks about it because they all have a shared interest in the games. If you are passive or aggressive in your play it's OK, it's a game, and no one gets hurt."

Eighth-grader Miriam Wilson has always loved board games, and she has not missed a single day of club. At home she played Monopoly and Sorry. The club has introduced her to new games.

"I like playing with other people," Miriam said. "After I've played with them for a while, I know what they are thinking and what their next move is going to be."

At another table sit the trading-card gamers. Two brothers, Braden and Cameron Putnam, are in the club. They enjoy playing games with each other and their brother, but they joined the game club to play against new people.

"When you play with the same people all the time, you know exactly what they are going to do," Braden said.

Being able to pursue an individual interest also attracts students.

"It's a time to get away from my siblings, my family and have fun," said eighth-grader Devin Smith.

Math teacher Olson, like the kids, has his own reason for enjoying the club.

"It's a great stress reliever," he said.


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