Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Title: Oral History Interview with Robert Yost, November 22, 2000. Interview K-0487. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Yost, Robert, interviewee
Interview conducted by Grundy, Pamela
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 148 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-07-19, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of sound recording: Oral History Interview with Robert Yost, November 22, 2000. Interview K-0487. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0487)
Author: Pamela Grundy
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Robert Yost, November 22, 2000. Interview K-0487. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0487)
Author: Robert Yost
Description: 172 Mb
Description: 47 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 22, 2000, by Pamela Grundy; recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series K. Southern Communities, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Robert Yost, November 22, 2000.
Interview K-0487. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Yost, Robert, interviewee


Interview Participants

    ROBERT YOST, interviewee
    PAMELA GRUNDY, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
This is Pamela Grundy and I am here at Charlotte High School at Charlotte, North Carolina. And I'm interviewing Bob Yost, teacher and chess coach at the school, and it is the twenty second of November, the year 2000. I guess I just want to start, if I could, with a little bit of your background and find out where you grew up, how you became a teacher, and all of that.
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I grew up in the Washington, DC area. Maryland suburbs, right on the DC line. A little place called Colmar Manor, which is next to Cottage City, which is next to Brentwood, which is next to Hyattsville. Somebody might have heard of Hyattsville, but I don't think they've ever heard of Colmar Manor. But I was right there on Eastern Avenue. And I was born in 1952, grew up in that area. I went to the University of Maryland, where I played chess on the chess team as well as played for Blandensburg High School. I think we were second in the state back there in 1970. Studied speech and drama, with a minor in English education at the University of Maryland. Got my masters of education there as well. Went to Capital Seminary, got a bachelor of theology. So I was trained to be a minister. I worked as a Presbyterian minister in the Washington area and in Michigan and then here. I was a pastor here.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You came to, that's what you originally came to Charlotte to do.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes, I came here to be a pastor of what is now (Coolwood?) Presbyterian Church. Well at that point, through a divorce, wound up getting out of the ministry. I still

Page 2
teach. I used to, I was teaching Hebrew poetry and Greek religion and philosophy. And I'm still listed as a professor at (Landstone?) College. Although I'm very inactive at the moment. I just have too much to do. So that's a little bit about my background. I've lived in Maryland, North Carolina, Michigan, and spent several years living with Eskimos up in Canada, which is probably about the most interesting thing I've ever done.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Really? I bet. What led you to do that?
ROBERT YOST:
Vietnam War.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Oh, OK. All right.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes, I went up for a few years back when I wasn't feeling too good about my country. And a lot of people weren't either. So I moved to Canada. And I thought it would be interesting to see how the Eskimos lived, and so I went up to central Canada and learned how to hunt and trap and how to build igloos and how to speak [unclear] and all that kind of good stuff that was very interesting.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I bet. I bet. That sounds like a real, [unclear] , so what year did you come back to the U.S., then?
ROBERT YOST:
I came back in, let's see, it was '75. And then I went back up again in '89. And walked up to the Arctic Ocean to go across the tundra. About four hundred mile backpacking trip across the tundra. And then I came back and got fat. Out of shape.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So was this before your seminary studies and all that you, I'm trying to sort of fit where in the chronology of your life.
ROBERT YOST:
I left Canada before my seminary studies.

Page 3
PAMELA GRUNDY:
But after college.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. I actually went up before my senior year. But anyway, I have a pretty eclectic background. I've done a lot of different things. I've [unclear] , I've worked as a deck hand on a tugboat up at Churchill. I don't know if you've ever heard of Churchill. That's the polar bear capital of the world.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Oh, really? OK.
ROBERT YOST:
If you've ever seen the National Geographic special, Polar Bear Alert?
PAMELA GRUNDY:
No, I haven't.
ROBERT YOST:
This is the most unique town in the world. It's a teeny little settlement, seaport. And in the fall, the place is actually overrun with polar bears. They come into town, I mean, they're everywhere. It's just incredible.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's really interesting.
ROBERT YOST:
It is.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I love it. I love it. So how then did you come to become a high school teacher?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I had left my church. And I was teaching at East Coast Bible College, which is a Church of God institution. And so they would not let me teach anything in my area. They would not let me teach Greek or biblical studies or anything like that. Which is really what I wanted to do because I think they consider Presbyterians heretical. So I was teaching testing and measurements, educational testing and measurements, sociology, and a speech class. And I was really just, you know, I was looking for something to pay the

Page 4
bills. And so I put an application in with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. And I got a half-time job for half a year at Eastway Junior High School. It was looking like I was going to go to Coral Gables, a church in Coral Gables. They offered me a job teaching bible and theology. [interruption]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You were saying that you had put in an application to Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. I was hired for half time. And I taught at Eastway Middle School. Junior high school, at the time. And they asked me to come back and I said no because I'd accepted this job. In fact, we'd even put down a down payment on a house about three hundred yards from Biscayne Bay. Pool and everything. A really nice place. It was probably leveled during that big storm they had a few years back. But we were ready to go. And at that point, my marriage just, it was on pretty shaky ground, and it just kind of went kaput. So I wound up staying in Charlotte. And right after I turned down the job I was called by West Charlotte High School to come for an interview. And so they interviewed me and, I guess, three other people, and decided to keep me for whatever reason. But when Louis Lane, who was principal at the time, hired me in 1988, I was pretty adamant about wanting to start a chess program at West Charlotte because they did not have one at the time. I don't know if they had one before, but I know they didn't have one at the time. And I thought it would be kind of fun to do. Since I played, and I just

Page 5
thought it would be very interesting to start a program.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Had you maintained a very strong interest in chess all these years while you were doing these things?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I didn't play seriously, competitively, after college. I would play, but not real seriously. You know, I would just kind of dabble with it. Every once in a while I would get inspired and maybe do a little study, but I wasn't playing tournaments or anything. Just kind of goofing around.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
How had you gotten interested in chess? What was your—?
ROBERT YOST:
I was four years old.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Really.
ROBERT YOST:
I lived next door to my cousin, who was six years old. And he taught me. He learned somehow, he learned the moves, and he taught me the moves. And he used to really beat me pretty badly back then. But, you know, at least I learned the moves and was interested in it. And there was another kid in the neighborhood a few years later. He was interested in playing chess. So we played chess together in the neighborhood. We weren't very good. Looking back, in retrospect. But we weren't too bad, either. In junior high school, at Blandensburg Junior High School, my friend and I, we were on the team at Blandensburg, and we had a pretty good team. So I pretty much sustained it through then, through that period. And then in high school, we wound up having a very good team. We wound up finishing in 1970 second in the state. At Maryland. And I think I had the best, I had the

Page 6
best record on that team. But we had four really good players. And that's what you need. There's a lot of balance on a chess team.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
What was the appeal of chess for you? Why did you—?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I think one thing I like about chess, I like individual sports. I was a cross country runner, and a miler, at school. And I played competitive table tennis. And chess. And I think what I like about chess is that like any other individual sport, although cross country is a team sport as well, but it's also an individual sport, you can't blame someone else for your mistakes. You, when you play chess, you are the captain of your own ship. And if you screw up, if you go down, it's your fault. And I think I liked that. The fact that you are responsible for yourself. And I think in our society today we put responsibility off on other people so much. And we allow children to shift responsibility away from themselves. And I don't think we do them any good when we do that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So you think that chess is helpful to students in that regard.
ROBERT YOST:
Absolutely. Number one, it teaches them logical thinking skills. It teaches them analyses. It teaches them strategy. It teaches them planning, which a lot of them need to know. It teaches them consequences. Because when you're playing chess, if you hang a piece, which means that you lose it, you lose that piece. You can't have your mother come up and scream at the principal and have your mother make things all right. It doesn't happen that way. So they learn how there are consequences in life. Their actions have consequences. And I really believe that a lot of kids don't realize that. They've had their parents or someone else fix stuff for so long that they think that

Page 7
anything can be fixed. And we have a lot of people up here that are in tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades, that think that they're just about grown men and women. And when something doesn't go their way they're going to call mommy or daddy. You know, I'll just say something like this, "This just goes to show you that you're not a man or woman, because a man or woman doesn't go call mommy or daddy." So they learn consequence. I think that's so important. A very, very important lesson to learn.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So tell me how you came up with this interest in setting up a chess team. How did you go about doing that?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, it was really kind of interesting because I didn't even have a room back then. And I'm not sure where I got the set, I think I went out and got some sets. I may have gotten a little bit of money from the school, I'm not even sure. I've put out so many, I've probably put out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years out of my own pocket for this program. But I remember I bought about a half a dozen sets. And we made the announcement. I found a science teacher, David (Shope?), who is still here, by the way, and he let us come into his room one day a week. It was on Tuesday afternoons. And we had about four or five kids that wanted to play chess, that wanted to learn how to play competitive chess. None of them had ever played any competitive chess. I'm trying to think back. It was Wade Duster, who became my best player. A fellow by the name of George Battle the third, I think. His father, George Battle, is a [unclear] resigned bishop, and he was the chairman of the school board for about ten years or so. So you might have heard that name. We had [unclear] . We lost him after

Page 8
two years. He went to the School of Science and Math, up in Raleigh, I think. Durham? Science and Math. And then a kid named Andy (Overhuffer?). So I think what we had, we had three sophomores and one junior. And we may have had one or two other people on the periphery there. But basically we had four people who I thought were players. And it's just four people's scores on a team. So you could have a team of fifteen people and you go into a major competition, but it's only the four best scores that count for your team. So we needed four people. So we started very tentatively. I just thought it would be kind of fun to see how far I could take them that first year. And if they stuck with me, how far they could go. And so that first year we had three sophomores and a junior. And we just started playing every week. And started making some improvements. And we entered the state championships that year, almost on a lark. I really wasn't sure that we were ready for that level of competition. So I was very hesitant at first even to enter my team. But we went ahead and did it, just for the heck of it, I guess. And at that time, East Mecklenburg, which won the state that year, they finished, I think, tenth in the country in the national championships. They were a dominant team. The [unclear] was an expert. But we wound up doing very, very well in that competition. We finished second in the state and scholastic that year. We were a distant second to East Meck. But we beat a lot of other teams that had pretty good chess pedigrees and traditions. And the most interesting game was, I remember Wade Duster, who was a sophomore, he had just started playing competitively that year. He played in the final

Page 9
match. The final round. He was playing Carlos Reina, I think was his name. Who was the number one board. He was an expert player. And here I had Wade Duster, who was unrated. And they played on that, that game was the last one to be decided. But I remember Wade had Carlos (Raina?) in time trouble. He was down in material, but he had him in time trouble. And they agreed upon a draw. It was really very exciting, chess wise. It's kind of like the two minute drill when you have a team that's driving for, to [unclear] into field goal range and then they try to kick a field goal and if they make it they win, if they don't make it they lose. But this ended in draw. It had all of that drama, chess wise, of a football game that's going right down to the final kick. And they drew. They agreed upon a draw. If they had had five more minutes in the game, Wade certainly would have lost because he was— [Interruption]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Anyway, you were saying
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. If Wade had, if they had five more minutes left in the game, Wade would have certainly probably lost that game. But as it turned out, Carlos was in such miserable time trouble that he agreed to a draw. I mean, it was just an amazing game. To me, that would have been the equivalent of back when Chaminade beat Virginia in the, I think it was the Rainbow Classic. Years ago. Mountain Classic. Whatever it was. Chaminade was a division two school, and they beat Virginia, which had Ralph Sampson, who was player of the year. So, although he didn't win, it was a draw, it was a tremendous kind of an upset. And it put West Charlotte on the map at that point. Because

Page 10
here we were known for having tremendous football teams, tremendous basketball teams. But we were not known for chess teams. And here all of a sudden, West Charlotte, inner city, predominantly black school, has a chess powerhouse. An amazing story. I mean, to come from nowhere to second in the state in one year.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, these fellows must have been fairly good players to start out with. Were they? Or was it the work that you were able to do? Or a combination?
ROBERT YOST:
I think it was really, the main factor, I think, was the work that they put in. We just started, we started playing with one another. And I would play with them and work with them on their skills. And they started playing one another. And that's really the way to improve, is to play a lot. Especially to play people who are stronger than you are. And so they came in, they didn't really have any kind of expertise when they came in. They just had a desire to learn. And that's what they did. And we've had a lot of kids come through this program, that they come in, they don't really have any particular skills. But then they work, they come in and work hard, and we give them the opportunity to play every day now. They come in at lunch time every day and play. And I think this daily contact really helps them.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well I know, especially in tournaments, also, there's an element of psychological strength. Is that right? In order to be able to—?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I think there is a psychological sense. There's a psychological intimidation. I know that Fisher would certainly intimidate his opponents. And I think it was Fisher who said, "I like to see them squirm." And Kasparov, who just

Page 11
recently lost the world championship after holding it for about a dozen years. He was quite an intimidating figure at a chess board. I mean, you don't usually think of chess as being an, there being an intimidation factor. Football, yes. You see the big guys. But chess certainly is intimidating. And I think, you've ever heard the old saying, "Never let them see you sweat?" I think that if you look intimidated on a chess board, or if you look like you're on the run, an opponent can utilize that factor and turn it to victory.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Is this something that you would work on at all with the kids? Or is this just something that one develops?
ROBERT YOST:
Well I do talk with, I do deal with psychological tactics. I do deal with those.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
What are they? I mean, if you [unclear] . What kind of things?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, one thing I would say is that you appear positive. You never, if you move, don't ever, ever, ever say, "Oh, shoot!" Or "oops," you know. You don't ever want to let on that you have screwed up. You always want to be positive. If you make a move and it's the worst turkey of a move in the history of mankind, you want to act like you've got it working, I've got them where I want them now. So you always want to be positive, you always want to be very assertive. But then again, on the other hand, we don't want to go in, we don't want to be arrogant. And I've had to kind of rein in some of the kids. I don't want them, number one, I don't want them trash talking. I want them always to handle themselves with dignity, class. You know, we're not on the basketball court. We're not going to be talking trash to people. And I've

Page 12
had to kind of rein that in with some of the kids.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's interesting. You don't think about trash talking being something that would happen with chess. But I guess—
ROBERT YOST:
Well, we have a nickname here for the chess we play. We call it "ghetto chess." [laughter]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Oh, you do.
ROBERT YOST:
Which is a little bit different from the polite chess that you would see in tournaments. Sometimes when they play, it gets pretty raunchy.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Oh really. So, and that's all right when they're playing each other?
ROBERT YOST:
I don't encourage it. In fact, I try to always tell them to be humble. If you have any trouble with humility when you're playing with each other, come and play me. And we'll put you in your place right away. Because they can't beat me.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Right, right.
ROBERT YOST:
I always want them to, I think that we have such a reputation with Charlotte that we really have to work on our reputation. So I don't allow anything like that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
When you say reputation, what—?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, let me tell you something. You know, the news. Anytime there's a shooting or something, usually it's, they say West Charlotte. They're not talking about West Charlotte High School often, although we've had our problems. I mean, I've had five students over my thirteen years of teaching that have been murdered. Shriek Adams is the last one. I had him for two years. I have one kid who is in jail for murder. I've had

Page 13
other students come through my classes that have committed many charges against them. In and out of prisons. So we have a lot of students who have been in the court system. And when they say West Charlotte, a lot of people will associate that with the school part of town. So a lot of times we have an image problem. Inner city school. And we have to overcome that. So we don't want to give anybody any ammunition. That's what I always tell my students. We've really got to try hard. It's not like we're East Mac or Independence or Providence. You know, we had a shooting. I don't know if you were here, years ago, there was a shooting at a football game and several people were shot.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Yes. Right.
ROBERT YOST:
So we've got that kind of image to overcome.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
How do the kids react when you tell them that? I mean, when you talk to them. What's their perspective on this?
ROBERT YOST:
They humor me.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Do you think they're less concerned with that, really, than you are?
ROBERT YOST:
I think they are. I'm very concerned about it. But I have decided that we're going to have a classy program with or without them. And if they can't go along with the rules, they won't play. But yes, I want to have a classy program. I don't want to have to overcome all kinds of barriers.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's really interesting. I mean, you feel that that's been sort of, people have thought about, I mean that's been a sort of ongoing issue for people in a lot of areas of West Charlotte because of that.

Page 14
ROBERT YOST:
There is a perception of West Charlotte. And with the change in demographics that we have, the change in school population, it's becoming more and more to the forefront. So I don't want to give anybody any kind of ammunition to put us down. We've got enough problems. And we've been through, what, five or six principals since '94. We don't need it.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You say, I'm interested. You talk about the media here. Is this a statewide reputation? I mean statewide [unclear]
ROBERT YOST:
Absolutely. Absolutely.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So that really is something that [unclear]
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. Tom Brokaw wanted to do a story on chess a few years back. And the president of the North Carolina Chess Association told him that you need to go to West Charlotte, because there's a guy there that's the Dean Smith of high school chess coaches. And it was [unclear] . And that was back about, let's see, six, seven years ago, I guess. They sent a news crew, [unclear] Jones and three other people. They came here and followed us around. But essentially, I think, they have heard that chess was changing the lives of needy kids. Which was basically the thrust of what their story was. That here you had kids with a lot of needs, a lot of problems, and yet chess was having a positive impact on their lives. So they came here, followed us around for a day. Then they went down to Pinehurst. And followed us around there for a day. And they had the camera on us all the time. But we won our state championship, this last championship that year. And I got state coach of the year. So that helped.

Page 15
That was the first time that I'd gotten, and only time. So I felt pretty good about that. But other people had recognized the program statewide. And on a national basis, I think, we have a reputation. We're not one of the elite programs of the country, but we have a pretty good reputation. You know, we've been competitive in national championships. We've finished as high as, let's see, we've brought home trophies for fourteenth, seventeenth, and eleventh nationally. So we've had teams that have—and twelfth. Yes, twelfth, fourteenth, seventeenth, something like that. But we've brought home, we've had some trophies [unclear] . But we've had some very good national finishes in the national championships. And we've never really competed for the national championship in the sense that we were going into the last two rounds with a real threat to win it. But we, you know, we are really very competitive. I think that any time that you have a team that's top twenty-five caliber, then you have an outstanding team.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I would certainly think so.
ROBERT YOST:
So we have achieved that. And every year I have goals that I write down. And one goal is to win a state championship. We've done it six times. Another goal is to finish top twenty-five nationally. And I think we've done it three or four times. Another is to win the Southern Scholastic chess championship, which is the Southern championship. We've done that eight times. Another one is to lose weight. And I've had less success with that, but I'm working on it. And do more exercise and you know, that kind of stuff.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Yes. Chess doesn't probably help you lose weight. That's not really that kind of a, a connected. Well, I'm interested, you talk about this being, I mean, unique or

Page 16
special in that this is an inner city school.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And to do well at chess is not the norm.
ROBERT YOST:
In fact, I was told when I first started, "Well, why are you doing that? You know that the population we have is not going to excel at chess."
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Really, so you—did you, but as you came into West Charlotte, I mean, did you have the sense that this was the kind of school you were coming to? And that you wanted to do particular things related to that? Is that something—?
ROBERT YOST:
No. I just happened to be going to the school that offered me a job. They offered me an interview. They offered me a job. I had decided not to turn, to turn down the Florida job and try to get our money back from the house. Because number one, my marriage was going down. Our house hadn't sold. So things were just starting to kind of crumble. So I just took a job where I was offered a job. I had no real idea of the history of the school. And I had no mandate from God to, you know, start a national program for—I just wanted to start a chess program. I thought that I would be good at it. I thought that I had something that I could share with those kids. And I felt that chess is a good, you know, it's better than going out there and killing people. Chess, so I thought it was a very positive thing to do. But I had no mandate. I mean, I really, coming into it, if I'd have known what we were going to accomplish, it would have probably amazed me. I just wanted to start a program. You know, have a little club. That's really all I wanted to do. Have a little club, and meet together once a week, and play chess like we did in high

Page 17
school. And that was it. It snowballed.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
It seems like a lot of those things have happened with West Charlotte. That's kind of also what made me think about a pattern. I mean, when I talk to people like, I was talking to Charles [unclear] about the drama program that he started here that seemed to kind of take off. It seems like there have been a variety of different things. Is there anything, sort of about the school itself that you think contributed to this? Or is this, it may not have been. I'm just kind of—.
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I think one thing that you need to have. You need to have somebody, okay, number one, you need to have somebody who's willing to sponsor them and help them. And it helped that I was there and I'm a player. I mean, there's nothing magical about me. I'd never coached chess before in my life. I just was a good, committed player. Not a great one, but a good one. A solid one. So you need to have somebody who is concerned. And you need to have somebody who is going to open up the room, be a part of their lives. I think that's important. But more important than that, because I'm replaceable. You could put somebody in here and would probably do just as well as I would. If the person put in the time and the effort and the love. But I think what has been important over the years is the kind of kid that we get. You have kids that come in and they've just been really good kids. Not to say that they've all been angels. But I had one kid come back when he got out of prison, he said, "I just remembered all the things you taught me about chess." He was on the team, but he was in the club. So we've had all kinds of kids come through this program. And a lot

Page 18
of them don't make the team. They just come in and play the club. In fact, most of them don't make the team. But they come in and play at lunch every day. And—what was the question?
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You were talking about the kind of kid.
ROBERT YOST:
Oh, yes. The kind of kid. Yes, the kind of kid. I think it really helps that I've had some really quality kids come into the program. You know, kids like George (Mantle?). Kids like [unclear] I've had a couple of other kids, Mannon Shaw and then Albert Monroe. Albert Monroe was a mathematical genius. He, when he was in elementary school, was taking high school calculus classes. He came in—In fact, he was the highest rated player I've ever had. He wasn't the best player I've ever had. He was the highest rated player I've ever had. And he played with me for one year. Had a good year. Not spectacular, but a pretty good year. But then I lost him for the last two years to Science and Math. I lost Manon Shaw to Science and Math. So unfortunately, you get a really good kid in there that you can really work with that has some knowledge of mathematics and logic and analysis, and then you lose them. And we haven't lost any students in the last few years to Science and Math, but I think having that kind of kid come to the program. Right now we get all kinds. We really do. We get all kinds. We get students who are the highest level, AP type kids, that are going to go to NC State and study engineering. And then we get the kids that, you know, they are kind of borderline problem kids. But I'm doing the school a service by opening my room up to them every day at lunchtime because at least these kids are supervised and they're not getting into

Page 19
trouble. So we have all kinds of kids. I would say that over the years, probably with the change in demographics, we're getting less of the really good kids and more of the really bad kids. And so, that's a factor that I think is going to change the program over the years if I should stay at West Charlotte.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, I was going to ask about that. I mean, obviously, and I think more so when you started than now, West Charlotte drew from a whole lot of different parts of the city, and a whole lot of kids from different economic levels. And did your top players tend to come from one or two of those neighborhoods, or levels, or did you have a whole range of—?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I think it was a whole range of them. You know, we've had kids from, I'm just thinking, Goldwyn Parker went to, he graduated a couple, three years ago. He lives in Pawtucket. Black kid, smart kid. Went to Piedmont. And then his best friend was Trey Wallace. His father is a doctor. And he lives over by Cotswald. You know, in a really, really nice house. More than I could afford. We've had kids just really from all over. Just all over the place, we've had them. So I don't think that any one geographical locality in Charlotte would dominate my team structure.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Or the kids from a better economic background?
ROBERT YOST:
I would say that probably the kids from the better families, the better economic backgrounds, have made the better chess players. But my chess program's not just a chess team. It's the kids that come in here every day and play chess with me. And come in here and play every day. They're as much part of the program as the kids that I

Page 20
take to Chicago for the national championship, or to New York City. Or to Atlanta. They're as much a part of the program, they're as much the reason why I'm here as those kids that I take and finish in the top twenty-five nationally.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
What do you think those kids who just come and play every day? What do they get out of being in the chess club?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I think they are achieving personal goals. They're learning discipline. They're learning analysis. Logical thinking skills. They're learning the life lessons that I teach. And they get the satisfaction of improving on a day to day basis. Which is very important. And I think chess is a highly individual thing. It's kind of like running. You know, you're basically, of course, you're in a race with other people. But you're also racing against yourself. Because you have times that you want to break. I've got a son who runs cross country. He's the captain of the cross country team at West Mecklenburg. And he's two or three minutes better than everybody else on his team. And he's two or three minutes behind (Steven Hoss?), you know, from North Mec, who won the state. And he came close to making all conference, but he didn't quite make it this year. He's got another year. But he's basically, he's not running against kids on his team. Because they're on a team, and he's going to beat them. Even if he's in a wheelchair, he's probably going to beat the kids on his team. But he's running against himself. He's running against his past times. And I think chess is a lot like that. Although you don't have times. But you have people that you play. And you're, you're proving on a daily basis. And so, in a sense, the satisfaction comes in the improvement. And testing

Page 21
your skills. I think that's a really big component of this. And then they come and try to play me. They think, well, okay, I think I'm ready for Mr. Yost. Then they go to play me.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
How do you see this change? I mean, can you describe sort of ways that you see chess changing these kids? In a sort of, do the things you see, or the way they talk, or other, other aspects of—?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I think it's kind of neat to see them change over the years. I'll just give you an example. You know, to see the improvement. I had a fellow come in. He's with my son now at NC State, studying engineering. He's a deaf kid. Name is Nick Long. He's one of the finest young men I've ever met. Last year he made Eagle Scout. Like my son. But he's deaf. He's handicapped. And he would come in, when he was in ninth grade, I think it was ninth grade, and play me. I wasn't even in this room anymore. I was in the E building. But he would come in and play. And he was terrible. He was really bad. But he stuck with it. He started to improve that year. And then every year he was improving more and more. And finally last year, the last two years, he was one of the finest players in the state. Anyway, Nick Long was, just turned out to be one of the finest chess players in the state. He worked so hard. He was just totally dedicated. And was just such a great, great kid. Now he was a great kid when he came to me. I didn't make him a great kid. But I think I helped maybe a little bit to be a better chess player. And he was just a wonderful kid. He's now at NC State studying engineering. And he's in the honors program at NC State. He's a freshman up there with my son Micah. I've seen other kids, well, for

Page 22
example, a few years back, I had a kid who was attention deficit disorder. And it was just kind of amazing. This kid was a kid, he could almost fly off the walls. But this was a kid who worked very hard in chess. Made significant improvements. And became a very, very solid tournament chess player. Which means that you have to be able to sit there for two, three hours at a time. Three times a day. Which I thought was kind of an amazing thing for him. I had another kid, [unclear] , he was from Bosnia. He came into my program, I guess he graduated about five years ago or so. But he, when they fled Bosnia, he and his family had spent some months in a concentration camp. In fact, his father had spent about two years in a concentration, I would assume being tortured and things. But they were just wonderful people. I've seen a lot of people in my program who have overcome tremendous odds to get where they are. And chess has been a factor in that. Of course, (Mirza?) was a, he was a fabulous chess player. My best player at the time. He was also a fabulous soccer player as well. So I've seen chess make significant impacts in people's lives. And then again, I think a lot of the kids that come in, even some of the kids that are more the lower level kids, chess has something for them, too. Because they're able to learn a lot through this. And it gives them something positive. We've actually had the BEH kids come in. The Behavior Emotionally Handicapped kids come in. And it give them, instead of going out there and shooting somebody or knifing somebody, this gives them a more acceptable way to channel aggression. And I've seen that. I've seen many, many positive things from

Page 23
chess.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And it sounds like from many different kinds of needs
ROBERT YOST:
Absolutely.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I mean, if you talk about kids with needs, and not just your stereotypical, inner city needs, but a variety—.
ROBERT YOST:
A variety. Yes, indeed. Back when I was playing chess, the stereotype chess player, the stereotypical chess player, was a little skinny white kid with a big head and big horn rimmed glasses. I don't know that I've ever seen one here. It's not a dirty thing here. In fact, you're really considered pretty cool to play chess.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Is it?
ROBERT YOST:
Absolutely. We're not considered nerdy.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Does that affect it at all? I think about, you think about an inner city school, you think about a largely black school. It seems like there's been, there was a movie a little while ago, but some amount of publicity put on the folks in New York City that played the fast chess in the parks.
ROBERT YOST:
Speed chess, yes. In Washington Square.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And that kind of thing. Do those images have any effect on how people think about chess [unclear] , or chess being something cool or something acceptable?
ROBERT YOST:
I don't know, but I think everyone's fairly familiar with Searching for Bobby Fisher. And the story of Josh Waitkin and Bruce [unclear] , who, by the way, I know.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Really? Wow.

Page 24
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. He was played by Ben Kingsley. But he comes to the national championships. And usually has some pupils that he's working with. I'm not in that league. Nowhere near. But I think that there is that kind of perception. Chess is, you know, they're familiar with that kind of thing. Although that's not the kind of chess we play. Although we do play speed chess, but I try to discourage them from playing speed chess. It kind of takes away from their game when they have to sit down and play a serious game.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
It was just interesting, I was thinking about chess and those were the sort of images that were coming to mind.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. Well I would say, too, that New York is the epicenter of chess here in the United States. You have the better players are in New York. And the better clubs, the better teams. You've got some teams up there that are, you know, contenders on a daily basis. A yearly basis. You've got schools like [unclear] in New York. You've got teams like Dalton School which probably costs more to get in, to go to, than Harvard.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Right. Right.
ROBERT YOST:
They have, I think they have grand masters on the staff.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Wow.
ROBERT YOST:
You know, they pay them. And they have actually courses in chess. We have to meet at lunchtime. We have to squeeze it in. And they're left with little old me to get them, bumble through this. But they actually have as part of the curriculum. So it's really hard for a team like ours to compete with teams like that.

Page 25
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Right. Yes.
ROBERT YOST:
Until they, and this is one of my peeves, pet peeves here, is that I want to write Dr. Smith a letter and ask him to hire a full time chess person for the system. To promote chess. Right now, chess is only in about a third of the schools.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Really?
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. We're talking about elementary, middle, high schools. Not every school has a program or a club. And fewer still are really competitive. So I'm going to write him a letter. This has been on my back burner for two years. Maybe I'll do it today. No, I don't think I will. But to write him a letter and ask him to have somebody who just promotes chess in schools.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well it sounds like that could be a very valuable [unclear] . Well, one thing that interests me, of course, about West Charlotte, which is interesting to, like many people look at the school, is this element of interracial interaction and desegregation. And one of these things I've been into thinking about lately is differences among different kinds of activities in the school, and how much issues of culture and race figure into those activities. How much they've facilitated them, they don't necessarily facilitate interracial interaction, you know, just depending on what the particular activity is. And I was wondering if you could maybe talk about chess in that regard. I don't know if I've made my question clear enough or not.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes, you better make it a little clearer than that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
In terms of, do you see any, I guess, both racial or interracial components to

Page 26
the chess club, that are meaningful to you? Do you think chess, is it at all related to it being chess they're playing? Or if you don't, if that's—.
ROBERT YOST:
I don't know that I see a racial component here. A few years back, this is going back a few years. I actually called chess club international club, because we had a token white person on the team. We called him our token white. We had several black.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Okay, you said two Hispanic [unclear]
ROBERT YOST:
Two Hispanics. I'll tell you the truth. We were such a melting pot, we were really a microcosm of society as a whole. We were just predominantly minority. However, and then other years, let's see, my first team, we had two Caucasians, one African American, one Indian, on the team. I really don't know that, I mean, that that has really been a factor. I mean, we have just been a composite of what the school is. We've always been integrated. But the exact composition, I guess I just don't really look at it that much. I'm so used to, you know, my wife is black, and I don't even think of her, I mean, I just don't think in those terms, whether you're black or white. Because I just look at them as human beings. So that has not really been a factor. I think that's what I really would like to say. That we don't even look as race as a factor. Somebody brought this up in one of the classes the other day. "Mr. Yost, there are only two whites in this room." We were talking about being minority. "There are only two whites in

Page 27
here, him and you." Oh, my gosh. You're right. I mean, I didn't even think about it. It hadn't even dawned on me. And I have classes in which I have all black students. Years ago, it wouldn't have been that way. I think we're becoming blacker in West Charlotte.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well I'm interested in, I mean, you've been teaching chess here, and doing the chess club, and of course you've also been a regular instructor. And you've been here a long time. You've seen a lot of changes at West Charlotte. And I was wondering if, if, you might talk a little bit about what you see as the more significant changes that you've seen in the school.
ROBERT YOST:
Okay. Well, we've had quite a turnover in principals. I was hired by Louis Lane. And then the next year, he left. And I think he went to, I can't remember where he went. [unclear] But Barbara Ledford, who was a former principal of the year, came from Northeast Middle School. And she was here, I think, through the best years that I've ever seen in West Charlotte. Through '94. And then we've had, let's see, one, two, three, four, I think five principals since then. We've had a lot of turn over. Just about one principal per year. And we've had a changing demographic. In which I think the over all quality of the type of kids that we're getting is not as high as it used to be. We've had a tremendous, tremendous teacher turnover. They did a, we did a little thing about raise your hand or stand up at the faculty meeting, how many of you have been here ten to fifteen years, and I think that there were maybe ten people on the faculty over ten or fifteen. So back when I started at West Charlotte, I really believed that West Charlotte had

Page 28
the best faculty in the state of North Carolina. I don't think we're anywhere near that now. We just have so many new teachers, young teachers, teachers that really, you know, they, this is where they get a job now. And I don't want to put this school down or anything, but you have a school, we're a school right now that has a, we have a state assistance team, we're designated by the state as a low performing school. And to just be very frank about this, if you want to go to a school, you want to get a job in a school, unless you have a personal ministry for that kind of student, you're not going to want to go to West Charlotte. Even with the reputation we've had over the years as a model of desegregation, blah blah blah. If you have a chance to go to Providence or West Charlotte, where are you going to want to go? You're going to want to go to Providence. And that is certainly a factor. And we've had tremendous teacher turnover. I think we've been tied in to, not only the demographics, but sometimes the principals that we've had, I think some of the principals we've had have polarized the staff. And has led to people just jumping off the ship in droves.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
How have these changes affected your day to day life as a teacher? If they have? If you want to talk about it. You certainly don't have to.
ROBERT YOST:
Well, they do affect your day to day job. I'm basically okay with it. As long as they let me do my thing. [interruption]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
We were talking about sort of daily life.

Page 29
ROBERT YOST:
As long as people let me do my thing and don't bother me too much, I'm a little unusual as a teacher, I think. As long as they just let me do my thing, I'm okay. I haven't had a lot of, any kind of interference from outside. I think they recognize me as an excellent teacher and let me do my thing. But I know that some teachers have gotten flack from different administrators. You've had teachers that have been kind of on their hit list or something. And you're under their microscope. I would not do well under that. Number one, I'm a jeans and T-shirts kind of guy. And with the new principal, I've had to kind of—I wear denims, which is kind of pushing it a little bit, and running shoes. And I have to wear a tie every day. So I'm a big guy. It's kind of hard to find shirts that will actually close. So I've got three, I think LL Bean plaid shirts that I can close. And I've got some, a few ties that I can wear. So I just sort of recycle those things. But I really don't like that kind of stuff. As long as they let me do what I do well, and that's teach, I'm fine. As long as they support the chess program. And I think that's really important. Right now, the [unclear] is a tremendous supporter of the chess program. As was Dr. [unclear] . I think they recognize what they had here, and I think that they recognize that they have something which is very unique. Something that may never be done again in the state of North Carolina. And they're encouraging that very much. So I really appreciate my principal supporting the chess program. She [unclear] , and they have a very, very good chess coach there. And they won a state championship, their first state championship, about two years ago. So when we went, came back from Asheville, we brought back three of four, I think elementary school won a championship. [unclear]

Page 30
won for middle school, and West Charlotte won for the state, for the high school. So we brought back a lot of glory for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. And you need to have that support. But I think that some teachers have really had trouble with the changes of having a kind of revolving door with principals. But every principal does something different, and every principal has a different philosophy. And you come in and you adjust to a certain philosophy and a certain way of doing things. And then another principal comes in and does it the opposite way. It's, it is really difficult. You have to adjust. So I would say we're still in a state of transition. Everybody here is under a microscope with the state team here. They're here to help. But they're also here to identify the weaknesses, the weak links. And I think they've already done that. They've identified some of the weaker teachers and they want to help them.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well you've had these changes in principals. There's also been a change in student body. I mean, getting a high percent of African Americans. And I gather also a high percentage of low income kids.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. And socio-economics are definitely linked to the scores which have—lower socio-economics, lower family involvement. Lot of kids are not with their parents. It's a sad, it's very sad. A lot of kids with children, which perpetuates the cycle. Children giving birth to children, giving birth to children. You have to break the cycle.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
It's hard to do just at school.

Page 31
ROBERT YOST:
You can't do it at school.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well how do those two, I mean, those are two, sometimes those two, people tend to put those two together. The blacker and the more low income. I'd be interested in how those two things have affected the classroom separately. If, does that, am I making, asking, I feel like I'm not asking my questions very well today.
ROBERT YOST:
No, they're fine.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
But the difference between teaching, for you, a more integrated class or a more predominantly, if not all, African American class. If there is a difference. And then the difference between teaching the more well off students and the more disadvantaged students.
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I would put it this way. I think that behavior goes across all spectrums. And you can have some kids that are AP that poorly behave. But usually they're not. But you can have some real smart kids that are jerks in AP classes, too. But sometimes I would rather have kids that are lower level because at least they're not know-it-alls. Sometimes kids in AP classes, or [unclear] classes think they know everything. And that you have nothing to share with them. But I think that poor behavior goes across the board. And we're seeing discipline as a major problem in schools. And it's not just a poor thing. It's not just a socio-economic thing. Although I think that with the lower socio-economic groups it does rise. I think there's a direct correlation. I generally have a tendency to not have many problems in the classroom, discipline-wise. I've got a class or two that are handfuls. But they're not out of control for me, and I've got actually four

Page 32
classes that are really a delight, and they just, you know, they're pretty darn good.
But I don't know if I would go into teaching again. If I had to do over again, I might find something a little bit easier. Something, you get a little bit more money and it's a little less stressful. Which I think is probably why my blood pressure is high. But I think over the years, I've learned how to handle classes. And I've got a regular class that is, I don't even know if I have any white students in the class, to tell you the truth. But they're a really good class. They're really neat kids. They work hard. We were doing interview questions the other day and they were just sitting there listening to me. And I said, I want to tell you, you are really a good class. You are great kids. And this girl said, "Are you serious? You're being sarcastic, aren't you?" And I said no, you guys are really good. I mean, you all are working hard. You're listening to me. You don't give me any problems. I think that's great.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Has the content of what you taught changed at all? I mean, again, my question thinking, as—
ROBERT YOST:
As a teacher?
PAMELA GRUNDY:
As a teacher.
ROBERT YOST:
Oh, yes.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
The sort of things that you teach.
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I teach twelfth grade. So we've always done British literature. But for the last four years or so, four or five years, I've been teaching a class which the college board has called "pace setter." So the curriculum is a little bit different. I

Page 33
integrate the stuff that I teach for the college board with the British literature as well. So it has changed a little bit. And I've really had to reinvent myself as a teacher many times over the years. Because I'm still learning how to teach. In fact, when I came in here, I had no clue how to teach, I'm sure. And some of the things I think I tried to teach were probably unbelievable. I probably was brilliant and gave wonderful lectures. I don't know that anybody learned anything. That wasn't teaching.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
What have you learned over the years?
ROBERT YOST:
I've learned to, that you have to take kids where they are, not where you are. And that you try to move them a little bit more. But I've had to learn to tailor my expectations. And I've learned that kids are better teachers than I am. And so a lot of times we do a lot of peer stuff, because they're actually much better than I am. And if you have a peer teaching something that he's learned, something that I learned, back when Hector was a pup, it's a little bit easier for somebody else to teach it. So we do a lot of that. I've even learned to let the kids teach the class totally sometimes. When we do Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, in pace setter, I do a little bit of brainstorming at the beginning of the unit, and then the kids teach the rest of the unit. They do cooperative learning groups. They have questions that they need to answer, then they teach the class. I don't teach it. I tell them I'm lazy. [interruption] Okay.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well let's, you were talking about, we were talking about teaching, the kids teaching the class, the different things that you had learned as a teacher.
ROBERT YOST:
Right. And I've found that they've done a really good job when they teach.

Page 34
I've even actually, I've walked out of the room, just hovered near the door where they can't see me, just to watch them. And they take it very seriously. You'd think that they—[interruption] but anyway, you'd think that they'd start acting up when I go out, but no. They really take it seriously. So they do a great job. But I've learned a lot. I've had to reinvent myself. I've had to really learn how to teach. Of course, I had no clue how to do it when I came here.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I guess one of the questions in terms of content, too, that I had, in terms of teaching and again regarding having a higher percentage of black students, is whether, for example, that pushed you or encouraged you to teach more black authors, more Zora Neal Hurstons, that kind of thing, or whether that's not something that doesn't—.
ROBERT YOST:
No, that's not even a factor. Because that's something I have to teach. That's a unit with the pacesetter. So when I teach that, it's not even British literature. And you know, one of the sad thing about British literature is that there are not really any African American authors. For example, you don't have a black Anglo-Saxon English literature. There is no black medieval period British literature. Unfortunately, there's no black Shakespeare. We have to deal with the white one when we're doing the English Renaissance. So there's, until you come to some of the modern ones, and we never get to the modern writers. But you know there's really not much from the African American perspective. So I try to do some different things with it. For example, we just did Beowulf with my regular classes. And when we finish Beowulf they have to do a twenty-line rap or

Page 35
poem summarizing Beowulf. So they actually have to do that. And I do a rap myself. I can't find it here. Oh, yes, here it is.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well do it.
ROBERT YOST:
Okay. This is Beowulf in the 'Hood by Robert Yost: Well his name was Beowulf, and it ain't no jive, that he was the baddest cat alive. He fought with Grendel, and ain't it true, when he was finished, Grendel was dragon stew. He ripped his arm off, clawed all, then he fought his Ma, but not his Pa. Then Beowulf got older and don't you see, he wore Depends for when he had to pee. He fought the dragon from a rocket ship. That Beowulf was so old, he had no hair. But all ends well when you're brave and true, that's all there is, this poem is through.
And they have to do, they have to do a rap or a poem. They've got their choice. But they have to summarize the story of Beowulf. And we have a lot of fun with that. Then they get to perform it. So I try to do some things that make it interesting. Then the final project for the year, the fourth quarter project—. We have a project every quarter. The first and third quarters they do a research project based on, this is for regular English, based on, the first quarter is based on Anglo-Saxon or medieval literature or characters. You could do it on chess, even. Or you could do it on knighthood. You see some of the posters here. Or chivalry, whatever. You could do it on Stonehenge. But they do a project which is based on the period. Third quarter they do something based on English Renaissance the time of Shakespeare. Or the seventeenth, eighteenth centuries, Victorian age. Second quarter we do an interview. They have to do an interview. Because

Page 36
that's a useful skill for projects. And then the fourth quarter, which I think integrates the whole thing, they pick something that they've read. They work in groups. They pick a piece of literature that they've read. It could be Canterbury Tales. The prologue, or it could be "The Partner's Tale," or it could be Beowulf, or it could be Macbeth. You know, something that they've read. And they have to rewrite it, in play fashion, in modern English. They have to perform it in class. They can't use any profanity or questionable language. But it's really kind of interesting kind of stuff that you get. This is from last year. We had, I think it was, Macbeth, [unclear] . And there it says, "In the streets of North Woods projects are some of the most notorious gangs, known as the BGD folk. Here we see them on the corner by the liquor store." They're just basically doing Macbeth. It's kind of like when they did West Side Story as a remake of Romeo and Juliet.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Right. Right.
ROBERT YOST:
They have a lot of fun with that stuff.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
It sounds like you learn a lot from the kids, too. Culturally and stuff.
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I wouldn't have thought of this stuff thirteen years ago. I've learned a lot as far as how to do this. I get better every year. I think probably by the time I retire, I may have some idea how to teach. Because I'm getting a little better at it each year.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well what would you say, what are the things that you have learned from students here at West Charlotte over the years?

Page 37
ROBERT YOST:
What have I learned from the students? Patience is one. Because you have to be very patient. You plant a tree, it takes a long time for it to come up. And when you work with a child, it's kind of like you're working with a little thing. And you need to be patient. I've also learned that I've had an impact on a lot of lives. But I've also had a lot of kids that I just can't reach. No matter how smart I am, how good a teacher I am, how witty I am, there are some kids that I'm just incapable of reaching. So I've learned that I'm not God's gift to everybody. I think that's a lesson that everybody needs to learn. I mean, if I can be God's gift to one or two, then I've been a blessing. Then I've done a pretty good job. But you're not going to come in as a teacher and change the world. You can change a little part of it, but you're not going to change the world. But I do the best I can.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, you said you came to West Charlotte and you had no mission from God when you came to West Charlotte. You just had gotten a job and here you'd come to this inner city school and started your chess program. Now looking back over your time, what does it mean to you that you did this? At this school? At West Charlotte, and [unclear] in an inner city school. Does that have any particular significance for you?
ROBERT YOST:
Repeat that. Repeat that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I said, when you first came here, you said you came—
ROBERT YOST:
[unclear]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You just came because it was a job. And you spent a lot of time here, and you've done a lot of things here that, at an inner city school, a school that's

Page 38
predominantly black. Does that have any particular meaning for you now?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I wouldn't exactly say that when I came here it was just a job. It wasn't. It was a job, I mean, it was the place that hired me. But I have found out that I really love it here. And I love what I do. I hate dealing with discipline issues. But I really do love teaching and I'm pretty good at it. You know, you find something that you're pretty good at, that you enjoy, where you can mold lives. I've found that even though I'm not in the public ministry that I can have a ministry here. And that's been very important to me because I'm dealing with young people every day. And I had a kid a few years ago that graduated, his parents invited me to lunch after graduation. But he told me that he was inspired by my example, and that he wanted to go to college and become an English teacher. And I had lunch with them. Never saw him again in my life. A lot of kids come back and see me. I never saw him again. He told me that he had inspired me and his parents. Just thanked me so profusely. And I got a call last year from a girl that I taught my first year here. [unclear] . She is, she teaches in the St. Mark's program at [unclear] . I hadn't seen her in about ten years. But she ran into her, and she told me that I was the reason that she went into teaching. Because she wanted to—she's a girl from just up the street here, very poor background. But a great kid. She's just wonderful. And she told me that I had inspired her to go into teaching. And she teaches these, you know, these retarded, severely retarded kids. She teaches in a little self-contained classroom and she has maybe a half dozen kids, if that. It's the St. Mark's program. It's self-contained at [unclear]

Page 39
High School. But I guess you can imagine what hearing something like that does for you. I mean, it really kind of reaffirmed my, my career. Sometimes I've wondered what have I really done? Have I really done anything? And when you meet someone like that again it reaffirms your mission. Made me feel pretty good about myself.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Yes. I can see that. I understand. Well you mentioned, I mean, to talk about, to kind of carry on in this vein. Caught my ear a ways back. You talked about deport of the chess team and having people care, and then you mentioned love. You talked about there had to be love. And I was hoping you might be able to tell what you meant by that
ROBERT YOST:
Well, you've got to love these kids. You're going to be with them a lot. And they come in every day. I love the kids. I really do. I tell them that. They look at me as being kind of gruff. But really, I'm just a big teddy bear. I think that a lot of these kids need to know that they're loved. And if they don't get it here, they might not get it anywhere else. And so I think that's really important. I'm not really big in the self esteem movement of teaching. I don't think my job is to build up their self esteem. But I do think that kids need to know that they're loved. And I try to do that. Probably not as well as I can, but I try.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Do you demonstrate it in ways rather than telling them? Do you think the things that you do demonstrate that?
ROBERT YOST:
Well, I give a lot of my time being chess coach. I don't get paid for this. I give up a lot of my time. I've also probably given a lot of my money to the program. Kids that cannot afford to play. I'll just give you an example. These Bosnians, we decided to

Page 40
have a chess banquet. We were going to have it at Red Lobster. And the Bosnian family could not afford to come. He was an engineer in his country. But they had no money. And so I paid for the whole family. That was, I mean, I don't mind. I'm not rich, but I wanted everybody to be there. And that was the only way that they could come. It was like [unclear] dollars. [unclear] the Red Lobster. Well, I usually take them out for pizza once a year. Take them out to Pizza Hut or CC's. You know, it's really nothing much that I do. But, and I've paid for things for kids that just don't have the money. Because a lot of times you get kids that are just real poor. And they want to play. So I'll pay twenty dollars, or whatever, for an entry fee or something.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
This [unclear] because it [unclear] me very much like some of the stories we've talked to the teachers from the era of segregation. And the kinds of things that the teachers did then for the students. It's interesting to hear this kind of—
ROBERT YOST:
Well I would estimate that I've probably put four or five thousand dollars into the program. That I've never gotten back. And I'm probably like everybody else. I'm in debt. But some kids would not have an opportunity to play on a competitive level and if they didn't have somebody to take care of them.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You said one more, I'm almost done, I know you kind of want to, I want you to be able to get done and get home to your family so you can do this with them. But I just have a couple of other—[Interruption] You said when you first came you didn't know much about the history of West Charlotte. I'm interested in what you learned over the years about the history of the school, and what effect, if any, that had on you and

Page 41
what you think about it.
ROBERT YOST:
Well I didn't realize that West Charlotte was a model for nationally, and not only in the district, but nationally, for desegregation. I remember 60 Minutes was doing a story about our school. And had a 60 Minutes news team came into my classroom. And that just kind of blew my mind that they were doing a story. And I don't think I made the cut, but it just kind of blew my mind that they would come in and they were interested in what I was doing. I didn't really know too much about the sports history. Which is really big. I didn't know, for example, that we have a national alumni association. I don't know any other schools that do. There's just a lot, in fact, I guess I did not realize that West Charlotte stood for such excellence and pride. When I came down here in '84, West Charlotte was just a team. They had a pretty good football team, I'd read about it. I had a kid in my church who went to the school. But I didn't really know much about it. I didn't know about the (Morehead?) Scholars. I didn't know about the reputation it had for academic excellence. I didn't know about the outstanding faculty. I just thought that West Charlotte inner city school, it's probably going to be crummy.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Really.
ROBERT YOST:
Yes. And I didn't realize that. The next years, after I was hired, I went up the the Brunts School of Math and Science. [unclear] Yes. Which is one of the top schools in the country. And it looks pretty seedy. In fact, it looked worse than our school. But they're always one of the top ten schools in the country. So you can't go by looks or perception.

Page 42
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And did that help you, do you think, knowing there was this tradition when you were working on getting your—?
ROBERT YOST:
Yes, once I got to know, as I became acquainted with the history of West Charlotte, it really kind of gave me a sense of pride to do something that had never been done here before. So even though we had reputations in different areas, now we were building a reputation for chess. Which I thought was kind of interesting. In fact, Tom Knotts and I would kind of joke about it. Who's going to win the first state championship? Because he, he had, West Charlotte had some of the best teams in the state. And we had finished five times second in scholastic, before we ever won the state championship. Five times. In fact, I began to kind of get a complex about it. I thought, we're never going to win the big one. I just don't think I can do it. We would come close. Actually, four times, I believe, it came down to the last game. Four times it came down to the very final game. One of our players, you know, you're playing hundreds of games and then one of our players is playing one of their players. And it's coming down to that last game, and we would always lose it. And I was just always saying okay, well, we can't compete with some of the other schools. And I can get a little complex about it and defensive, and then, then we won. And I just couldn't believe it. We actually won. After all of those second place finishes. But I think one thing that's been a real source of pride for me is that we have had the most consistently excellent program in the state over the last thirteen years. Other teams have come and gone. We've had other teams that have won a couple of state

Page 43
championships. There was that independence— Meyers Park is really strong right now, and they've got some excellent players. In fact, their team, they're going to graduate this year. But their team won a national elementary school championship at [Sherr?] Elementary school. So that was about six years ago. So this, the remnants of that group now, they're going to be graduating. So we've had tremendous chess teams here in Charlotte. Independence, East Meck won one or two. Independence won two. Meyers Park has won a couple. But we have been more consistently excellent over the years. In fact, I don't think, I don't know that anybody's ever going to do what we've done over the years. I don't know if it will ever be done again. We have the excellent, sustained over a long period of time. Because we've had six or seven now, I can't remember. I have it written down. Like six or seven second place finishes in the scholastic. We have four high school, North Carolina high school chess championships. And then two North Carolina scholastic championships. Eight Southern scholastic. We have, pretty much own the Southern scholastic. Winning it eight out of eleven years. And we won the, the junior, U.S. Junior Chess Congress South here in Charlotte. We won that, too. So I think it ends up being part of a nice, a good school, with a reputation for excellence in other areas. And then adding to the excellence is source of pride. It makes you feel good about your program.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I guess I'll ask that question I asked earlier. I think maybe I thought of a clearer way to phrase it in terms of accomplishing these things particularly here at West Charlotte.

Page 44
ROBERT YOST:
Against the odds, you mean?
PAMELA GRUNDY:
In a sense, yes. Do you feel differently, you think, about this, than if you had had the same accomplishments at Meyers Park or Providence Day?
ROBERT YOST:
Absolutely. Because Meyers Park—. Well, number one, we've had kids here at this school who have come from poverty circumstances. Now we've had some good kids, too. We've had sons of doctors and lawyers. And Seth Bronquist, his father's one of the attorneys. So we've had kids that are pretty well-to-do. But we've also had some in the lower tier of society. But for the most part, the kids that I've had over the years have not been the kinds of kids that can afford private lessons with grand masters or masters. And some of the kids from the other areas of town that have gone to Independence, Meyers Park, they've had private lessons, they've been involved in lessons. So the fact that we have, basically, what we've achieved, we've achieved on our own. In fact, the CMSCA has had chess coaches. They hired chess coaches and for years we just couldn't get, they would barely even come out here. They'd go to other schools. And we used to kind of joke about it. They'll go to Meyers Park. Or they'll go to Independence, whatever. They won't come here. And the rap on us was, we have a chess coach. Some of these other places, they didn't have a—. I mean, we're pretty rare. Coaches who can actually coach. You might have a sponsor. But a lot of times the sponsors are, it's very difficult to have any sponsor who's actually a coach. Who's a competitive player. So a lot of times, we wouldn't have any help other than what we did

Page 45
ourselves. And I think that was an enormous sense of pride for our program, our kids. That we would be spurned by the other, some of the other programs and even in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association. I don't, I really don't think that anybody had it out for us or anything. But you would go to chess tournaments and we would be the only, for many years, we would be the only teams with black faces. And we looked different, we dressed differently. But I think yes, if I had been at Meyers Park, it might have been easier. Because you can hire a, a lot of the players that come in are just, they're better players. And a lot of them have private lessons. So I think that yes, the sense that we've really had to fight uphill, we've had to scratch and claw for everything we've ever had, is a tremendous source of pride to me.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
This has been wonderful. You've had a lot to say. I've really learned a lot, I think, about chess, about school. Is there anything else you think is important about the team, about West Charlotte, your experiences here, that we haven't talked about that would be important?
ROBERT YOST:
Well I just, I've thought about this and I'm not sure what my future is here at this school. You know, with the changing demographics. For example, if you are dealing with a kid outside of class who's maybe not where he's supposed to be. He's cutting a class, and you say something to him, you might be cussed out. Which is kind of an interesting experience when you have a child cussing out an adult. Or just walking away, ignoring you. I need to lower the stress level in my life with my blood pressure. The doctor said

Page 46
if I don't do that it will probably kill me. So I don't know what my future is here. I may stay here. I may think about some changes. I don't know. If I stay here, I don't know how long—. Of course, I say this every year. How long we can sustain the level of excellence that we've grown accustomed to. Every year gets harder and harder for me to put the time investment in. I guess I'm just getting tired. And I'm seven years away from retirement. And it's harder for me to go spend a whole weekend at a chess tournament. This year we're flying for five days to Kansas City. You know, give that kind of time for a tournament, which is just totally exhausting. It's getting harder and harder for me. I just don't know how long I can sustain this. Or if I'm going to sustain it here. I would like to see a return of West Charlotte to the glory years. It's going to be a long, uphill climb if it can be achieved. But everybody has to work together for it to happen. You have to have a principal who cares, provides the leadership. You have to have a staff that buys into the vision, that's willing to work toward it. And the kids have to buy into it, too. Or it won't happen. Our test scores need to improve this year. If they don't, we will actually be taken over by a state team next year. We will be taken over. I don't know if I want to be a part of that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well it sounds like there's more oversight, less independence.
ROBERT YOST:
So I'm just in my own little world here, doing my own little thing. My little teeny little thing here. But there are forces out there that affect that. More so than I can affect it.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, all right.

Page 47
ROBERT YOST:
That's it.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's it.
END OF INTERVIEW