January 10, 2008 - Watertown Daily Times - Wisconsin - WDTONLINE - Checkers champ challenges teens 

Checkers champ challenges teens
By Teresa Stowell of the Daily Times staff
Thursday, January 10, 2008 12:22 PM CST

Duane Thomsen, 80, of Watertown, spends Wednesday afternoons playing checkers with teens at the Recreation and Outreach Center. He’s pictured above playing against high school senior Joey Tucker. Very few teens have defeated Thomsen in the past three years. (Teresa Stowell/Daily Times)

A game that many enjoy in their childhood years has been quite a challenge to some local teens who are often surprised by the skills one local senior citizen has in playing the game of checkers.

“I almost had him,” Joey Tucker, Watertown High School senior, said Wednesday afternoon. “I made just one wrong move and he caught it and that was it, I was finished.”

Every Wednesday teens at the Recreation and Outreach Center try their hand at defeating local resident and top rate checkers player Duane Thomsen, 80, at the game. Few have defeated Thomsen over the past three years since he began volunteering at the ROC.

“It's really a great intergenerational activity,” the Rev. Tim Mueller, of the ROC, said. “He really hates losing but he makes it a fun, friendly competitive game and when he does lose he's a good sport and teaches the teens good sportsmanship.”

Thomsen plays about 10 to 15 games a night at the ROC. He volunteers every Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. Many of the players are new but often some teens take a repeat try at defeating the superior checkers player. Tucker has played Thomsen several times. Years of practice and learning has given Thomsen the skills to be almost undefeatable in the game.

“Checkers has been my favorite game since I was a little kid,” Thomsen said. “Elmer Vaught, a depot agent in Hubbleton, was a friend of the family and a good checkers player. My mother would invite him over for supper and after supper we'd play checkers. He'd beat me so bad, but I saw how he did it and learned.”

Thomsen continued playing checkers throughout his life. His grade school teacher in Hubbleton, Harriet Wollitz, was always willing to play checkers with Thomsen. His cousin Sherburne Menz would also play against him during lunch hour in school. Al Zurbach, Thomsen's agriculture teacher at Lake Mills High School, also promoted checkers. Thomsen played so much that at about the age of 20 he began participating in the state checkers tournament.

“There was a good checkers player from Waterloo named Frank Stokes who was the state champion quite often,” Thomsen said. “The best I ever did at the state tournament was to get a draw. I didn't win, but I didn't lose. A few of the kids at the ROC have gotten draws on me.”

Thomsen said he wanted to help at the ROC and the best way he knew how was to get the teens involved in something other than the norm.

“This helps introduce the kids to something else,” Thomsen said. “There have been some good players but when they get beat once or twice then they get gun shy.”

After defeating most of the teens at the ROC the number of those wanting to play against Thomsen thinned. Thomsen decided it was time to give an incentive to the teens.

“I had to encourage them in some way,” Thomsen said. “If they get beat all the time and there's no incentive why would they want to play?”

Now Thomsen offers a free pizza and can of soda to any teen who can defeat him in a game of checkers. In the past three years he has volunteered at the ROC only four or five teens have defeated him. Now he also offers a free soda to any teen who can get a king.

“Some of them won't play unless they can get something,” Thomsen said. “Even though I offer them a can of soda if they can get a king there are still quite a few who can't even get a king. They got to have some challenge.”

Thomsen said he plans to continue visiting the ROC for as long as he is able.

“You really have to look ahead three or four moves in a game,” Thomsen said. “Once you get ahead by one you're sure to win.”