Last Saturday on March 14, 2015 in Spokane Washington a Settlers of Catan tournament took place. This tournament, a qualifier for the Catan National Championships which takes place at Gen Con every year, started just like every other tournament. Having been to several other Catan tournaments I knew what to expect, lots of Geeks ready to play, mostly men with a few ladies, and even fewer kids.
We were going to be playing 4 games and the winner would be decided first by wins and then by points. This tournament was especially large with over 50 players arriving to do battle in tight quarters at Uncles Games in Spokane Valley Mall.
What made this tournament unlike any other was a special 10 year old boy named Gabe Tesch. Gabe had come to compete in the tournament. I first met Gabe in Round 2 of the tournament as he was going to be one of the players in my game. Gabe was always smiling and had a cheerful demeanor. When I asked him what was going on with him. He told me he had Brain Cancer. I said “I’m sorry Buddy” he responded “It’s ok” and smiled. Apparently Gabe had recently undergone two surgeries to remove a brain tumor and was undergoing chemotherapy. Gabe was surrounded by several family members and supporters at the tournament wearing super hero like t-shirts under the banner of Gabe’s Avengers. During the game Gabe played well and made some good decisions. Even playing with Gabe left a lasting impact on me, and you couldn’t help but feel compassion for this little boy and his family.
After playing 4 rounds and the tournament was coming to a close. The after game chatter was rife with rumors that there was a decisive winner with 4 wins. This is really unusual, especially in a tournament with so many experienced players.
When it came time to announce the winner, players gathered round to much fanfare to welcome the winners around a short ladder used as a podium in the middle of the game store. Third and second place came forth to accept their prizes. And then it happened. One of those moments that you rarely see, and it leaves a lasting impact on you. The winner Will Hoffman came forth to accept his prize. Will takes the $100 gift card and asks to make a speech. Will asks Gabe to come forward and has him stand on the short ladder. Then Will asks the crowd to “Raise your hand if you played against Gabe.” Several people including myself raise our hands. Will then looks to Gabe “So your battling brain cancer…and you came out here and battled us and beat some of us..”. Will then hands Gabe the $100 gift card and the crowd erupted in applause and cheers. You can hear Gabe’s mom in tears in the background. Gabe grinning ear to ear with a smile that would warm the coldest hearts. Will then said “I heard you heard about Catan through a bible study” He then went on to lead a prayer for Gabe.
It’s unusual to see somebody make such a sacrifice these days. It’s almost as if it were meant to be for Will, who had never met Gabe before this tournament, to win this thing so he could do such an inspiring act of kindness and selflessness. I am sure that moment will have a lasting impact on Gabe, but also upon myself and all the people that witnessed it. Hopefully we can all demonstrate this level of sportsmanship when we play board games. Remembering that life is bigger than winning the game, and how we play the games with the friends, family, and people we interact with can change all of our lives for the better.