Tom Knight is a teacher at Paducah Tilghman High School and is the founder of the West Kentucky Chess. Although he moved several times in his youth he calls Paducah home. He brews his own beer and dabbles in painting as well. iMeet this knight who is no pawn!
Welcome to iMeet, Tom. Tell us about yourself...
My past is a shroud of mystery…just kidding. I moved around a lot in my younger years, but Paducah has been my home the longest. I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. After moving around Virginia for most of my early years; some time in Charlottesville and Covington, I found my way to Paducah, when my dad took a job at the Wickliffe paper mill’s carbon plant.
On Monday, March 30, 1998, I started at Heath Middle School. I had a beautiful shiner developing on my eye and the ability to create a new legend for myself. The black eye helped significantly, and people just assumed I was not one to mess with. This was also the same day I met my wife because we were in the same grade.
Having a normal childhood is difficult when you move around a bunch, and having learning limitations compounds that as well. Thankfully, I met some super eccentric classmates at Heath High School that allowed me to fly my “freak flag” as proudly and as weirdly as possible!
After high school, I attended nursing school at WKCTC, which did not agree with my, then, study habits. I did work as a nurse aid from 2003 until 2009 in various positions.
After abandoning a focus in nursing, I considered art, business, and theology, and even went to seminary for over a year at a tiny unaccredited school here in Paducah, called New Geneva Divinity School. It was after a short trip to St. Louis to listen to a lecture at Covenant Theological Seminary, that I started to consider a bachelors in education.
A few months later I was starting at Murray State’s Paducah campus for special education plus an elementary focus. I received a Bachelor’s in Special Education, and a Masters in Moderate to Severe Disabilities a few years later.
Tell us about your family...
My family is all over the place! I live in Paducah with my wife, and the rest of the Knights live elsewhere. My parents are in Richmond, Virginia, my sister is in San Francisco, and my brother is in Suffolk, Virginia. My dad, brother and sister all focused on careers in science, and my mom teaches - just like her parents did, and most of her family. Apparently I’m the cool one and took after my mom.
My wife, Kristie, and I have been happily married for 11 years. We’ve known each other since middle school but only started our relationship in college. She is my best friend. She’s the one that talks me out of my craziest ideas, like going back to school for nursing, or opening a brewery because I home brew.
We go on adventures together when we travel - often planning trips around great food, breweries, and weird/interesting things along the way.
We have a cat named Miss Schrodinger and she is a strong independent lady-cat. We don’t have kids, yet, but we’re very hopeful that we will.
You're a teacher. Tell us about where you work and what you teach...
After multiple times changing my mind about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had one of those Doc-Brown-flux-capacitor moments and realized that a career in special education might be worth a try.
It is worth it. This year marks year 10 as a special education teacher; eight years in high school, two years in elementary. I’m currently teaching at Paducah Tilghman High School. I collaboratively teach with general education teachers.
This year it’s a lot of sciences and math. In years past, I’ve taught in English, math, science, and social studies.
You were also instrumental in introducing our area to chess. Tell us about your involvement with West Kentucky Chess...
The rumors are true. I do have some involvement with chess in the region. Really, James Patterson paved the way in Paducah, Don Winters in Marion, Kentucky and the late-Wayne Bell, in Murray.
I noticed that Graves County High School didn’t have a chess club my first year there, and made the formation of their team my KTIP leadership project. There continued to be a regional need for growth and healthy competition for the 2-3 competing teams, so I connected with the Kentucky Chess Association, Don Winters, and Wayne Bell and became a Certified Tournament Director through the US Chess Federation (USCF), the national organization that oversees the ratings of competitive chess players. This helped get things started, and West Kentucky Chess was created a year or so later.
The business called West Kentucky Chess only came into being because there was need in the area. There used to only be about three teams in the area six years ago. Now, with a little bit of luck and lot of work, there are over 10 school districts/homeschool groups with 1 - 4 individual school teams.
There is also the potential for each elementary school to have up to three section teams (eg K-1, K-3, K-5 teams). Tournament sizes have increased from about 30 players to 160. The State Individual tournament was hosted in Paducah two years in a row, including last year at Paducah Tilghman!
The growth of chess in our region built upon the players being interested, parents being willing to get involved (the real heroes of scholastic chess), and teachers and schools being willing to simply facilitate chess for their students. You don’t have to be strong at chess to start a team. The KCA, WKC, and the current chess community will help you make up the difference.
My current project is to get chess tables in Noble Park and at the Riverfront.
How did you become so passionate about chess? Where did you learn?
My passion for chess is because of my late-grandfather Tom Knight, II. He taught me how to play when I was eight. He was extremely patient with me and I never beat him, but I enjoy playing chess and I really enjoy getting others to learn to enjoy the game. I ultimately want everybody to learn to play and more importantly enjoy playing.
Chess is challenging. There is no argument there, but why not try it out and see what it can do for you. When my grandfather taught me how to play, he also taught me how to be patient with a confused child that doesn’t understand the process, the rules, or the choices that are presented with such a complex game. I’ve been able to apply the strategy and patience that goes into learning and playing chess in my career as a special education teacher.
I know folks that play chess competitively or just for fun that work in aviation, are medical professionals, healthcare providers, chemists, educators, public service providers, restaurant dishwashers, and college students.
If someone wants to dabble in chess, start a team in your school. There are currently three community chess options in the Paducah; at Piper’s Tea & Coffee on Mondays from 5 - 7 pm; McCracken Co library on Thursdays from 5 - 8 pm, and at Lower town Etcetera Coffee on Saturdays at 1 pm.
You're also a pretty talented artist. What are some of your favorite mediums?
I wouldn’t say I’m a talented artist. I’m the son, grandson and great grandson of talented artists on both sides of the family. I’ve been known to paint on canvas, and I prefer oil paint because it’s just amazing to work with, but it takes forever to dry.
All the Toy Story themed tiles on the side of the art building at Heath Middle School are mine. I also enjoyed making enormous paper mâché pieces, dabbling in woodworking, and some other crafts. Most of my artistic talent goes into crafting beer and cooking.
My love of art has shifted more to collecting in the last few years. I have pieces from my mother, and both grandmothers. We also have some work by Enrique Gonzalez, an artist we met several years ago at the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival.
Do you still make your own craft beer? Tell us about this...
I do still make my own beer. I’ve been home brewing for 14 years and have gotten to the point that batches are consistent and repeatable. I really enjoy making beer. The systematic process kind of soothes me. The epic cleanup and sanitation requirement is less thrilling, but extremely necessary.
Since 2004, I have brewed almost 400 gallons of beer. Most batches turned out well, some great, and just three that were unspeakably terrible!
What do you like to do in your free time?
Really?! Free time?! I try to spend every moment I can with my wife. She tolerates me more than anybody and I’m quite fond of her.
About four years ago I became a Master Mason. I’m a member at Plain City Lodge No. 449, in Paducah, across the street from Carsen Park. We do a lot for the community, mostly for children and families. One of the coolest things about being a Mason, is that I was able to join the Shriners (every Shriner is a Master Mason).
The Shriners have several hospitals in the nation that specialize in orthopedics, cleft lip and palate, and burn care. I also, very recently became a member of the York Rite, within Masonry, and their charity work is all about medical research and assistance with paying for medical treatment for the blind, which is pretty darn cool.
That pretty much takes care of any free time I thought I might have.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Paducah?
My favorite place without question is Cynthia’s Ristorante. Bill and Cyndi were basically my first employers, starting with babysitting their kids, then washing dishes, then bussing table, then back-waiting, then demoted to bussing tables again! You can only break so many wine glasses… This was the restaurant where I proposed to my wife, and celebrated almost every anniversary, birthday, or special occasion. Bill was even a groomsman in my wedding.
Paducah is fortunate to have several excellent dining options, especially in their downtown area, but Cynthia’s will always be special to me.
If you could sit down and talk to anyone for an hour, living or dead, who would it be and why?
David Bowie. He’s the only musician I’ve ever been a true fan of out of all the music I love to listen to and all the other musicians. Bowie’s music is completely timeless. I enjoy his music so much that I used one of his fairly more recent, but lesser known songs, Seven from the Hours album, to audition for show choir my senior of high school. It worked, or course. So, thanks to David Bowie I can sing a little and dance a little.
I’m pretty sure he’s the real reason Zoolander was so popular! I’d just like meet him and talk, not necessarily about any particular thing, just to hang out.
Favorite movie of all time...why is it your fav?
I have many favorite movies. Movies I’ve watched over and over again, some newer that others. I suppose my favorite movie is the Hunt for Red October. I think I like it most because my dad served on a ballistic missile submarine at the end of the Cold War. And, who doesn’t enjoy a Scottish actor trying to maintain a Russian accent throughout a movie? Submarines have always been my favorite military machine. The Hunt for Red October usually gets watched 2-3 times a year in our house without breaking a sweat.
Share with us the most embarrassing moment in your life...
I’ve worked in healthcare and education. Embarrassing me is like trying to scare a ghost. You can try but, I’ve probably already experienced it. The clientele from both industries rarely have a filter.