Annorjan "Nuj" Naguleswaran doesn't play football, but he does have fans, a competitive spirit and plenty of good moves.
Teachers and classmates at Shanahan Middle School celebrated the 12-year-old chess player's achievements Nov. 12 with a pep rally fit for a champion athlete. Students and staff chanted "Go Nuj!" as they reached out for high-fives and presented him with a handmade banner and a personalized T-shirt.
Annorjan and his parents, Naguleswaran Nagappar and Dhamayanthy Naguleswaran of Delaware, left Friday, Dec. 13, for the United Arab Emirates, where Annorjan will compete in the World Youth Chess Championships. He said his school's support means a lot to him.
"I couldn't do this without my parents ... Shanahan Middle School, the principal, all my administrators (and) teachers," he said. "Seventh grade was when I blossomed. I really appreciate all my classmates."
Shanahan Principal Josh McDaniels said he was not surprised by the reaction to Annorjan's accomplishment. He said the school tries to cultivate an environment in which every student is respected for his or her particular talents.
"(Annorjan's) every bit as looked up to ... as an all-state football player," he said.
Annorjan will play 11 rounds against some of the world's best chess players in his age group at the event, which runs Dec. 20-27. He is one of 94 youths representing the United States, facing off against players from 121 countries.
Annorjan has come a long way since he first started learning the game from his parents, who look back and laugh about how quickly he went from getting frustrated to outplaying them.
"When he was little, he always lost his queen and (begged) us, 'Can I get it back? Can I get it back?' " Dami Naguleswaran said. "Thinking about that is so funny. When he started beating us, he was so happy."
Annorjan played in his first tournament at age 6. Although he was nervous, he said the experience sparked a lifelong love of chess. He went on to win elementary school and middle school state chess championships.
In response to his success in competitive play, the United States Chess Federation recently awarded Annorjan the title of candidate master. He said the title lets the best chess teachers know he's a serious student of the game.
The newly minted candidate master will arrive in the UAE a week before the tournament starts, giving him time to recover from jet lag and see the sights.
The trip to the UAE, which is bordered by Oman, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, will be Annorjan's first excursion outside the United States. Annorjan said he has been studying the geography of the country with the help of some of his classmates, and he is especially excited about a chance to see the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, in the city of Dubai.
Annorjan said chess takes up the majority of his free time, but his studies always come first. He also competes with the school's cross country and robotics teams.
Despite his youth, Annorjan has a mature philosophy about winning and losing. He said every chess match is a chance to learn something new.
"I've come too far to stop now, no matter what happens," he said. "Even if I lose (and finish in) last place, it's good experience. You always get something out of it."