Colorado teen finishes 4th in state chess championship weeks after brain surgery


DENVER (KDVR) — The game of chess requires an immense amount of mental focus, the world’s top players often thinking dozens of moves into the future. 

It is not a game one would typically consider playing just days after brain surgery, but 16-year-old Griffin McConnell is not your typical kid. 

The Golden, Colorado teenager, and former state chess champion, has dealt with epilepsy since he was six. Frequent seizures and constant headaches recently became too much to handle. 

“I thought the seizures were gone, and then after the seizures came back, I was kind of disappointed,” Griffin said.

His father, Kevin, says the family made the difficult decision for Griffin to undergo a fourth brain surgery earlier this year. 

As if it wasn’t difficult enough, they knew it likely meant Griffin wouldn’t get to play in this year’s state championship. 

“We’d already told him there was no chance you’re playing at state, and he was like I get it, I understand,” Kevin explained.

But when Griffin got home from the hospital last Thursday, he told his parents he wanted to play. After watching him play in a tournament online, they agreed to let him participate, along with his 14-year-old brother, Sullivan. 

Saturday night, Griffin finished in fourth place; Sullivan finished in fifth place.

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“He had it in his mind that he was going to play in this tournament, and your mind is amazing, it’s more amazing than your body,” says Colorado State Chess Association President Brad Lundstrom. “He is so positive, and inspiring, and kind and funny, that it just makes you cry to get to know him.”

Lindstrom says Griffin’s performance was even more astonishing, knowing the trauma his brain and body have been through over the past few months.

“You’d probably get slaughtered by these kids,” jokes Lundstrom. “We have young players, that are very, very good.”

Griffin hasn’t had any seizures since his latest surgery and hopes to one day teach chess.

“I want to help people, and I want to inspire people, so I want to become a chess coach,” Griffin said.

For his parents, seeing him play, was a win in itself.

“The win is that he’s home, and healthy, and pain free,” Kevin said. “It’s incredible.”

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