If you ask Cheryl Zhang why she enjoys playing chess, she doesn’t even need to take her eyes away from the chessboard.
“It makes me feel smart,” said Zhang, an eighth-grader at F. Amedee Bregy School, as she ran through the coming sequence of moves in her head. “It doesn’t matter how old or how big you are, you can play against anybody. And I like that.
“My dad introduced me to chess in the third grade,” she said. “He thought it would be something good that I should participate in. I wasn’t too fond of learning how to play, but later on I found chess to be exciting. Chess is all about strategy. During all of the competitions, I would be nervous at first, but as the game goes on I would be confident and very relaxed. I like to know my opponent first. I’ll ask them questions and observe their movements. A good chess player knows their opponent inside and out.”
Chess is a big deal at Bregy School.
There are 42 students who participate in the chess program. The students practice chess every Thursday after school. Students who participate range from second to eighth grade. When they aren’t practicing after school, they can be seen practicing at lunch.
“I’ve been playing chess for two years, and my experience has been good,” said eighth-grader Kwamane Kemp. “I’m constantly practicing to get better. When I play against other students at Bregy, it’s a friendly competition, but it’s also about finding different ways to take my game to the next level.
“My friends in chess are pushing me and challenging me to become a better player,” he added. “You naturally want to be great, when you see other students’ greatness. Chess is a thinking game. The skills that I’ve learned in chess has helped me in the classroom. With chess, you’re constantly using critical thinking, math and reading skills. You also have to be creative, especially when your competing against your opponent These are all skills that I can apply to my work in school.”
For eighth-grader Shane Clancy, playing chess has been something that he always wanted to do.
“My brother and my sister were on the chess team; seeing them play made me take an interest in learning how to play myself,” Clancy said. “I’ve been playing chess for two years now and it’s been quite a journey. Playing chess is a good way to interact with other students who are from other schools and cities. It’s also a good way to learn other players’ skills and tactics. It’s a lot of fun.”
Ten students recently went to a state chess tournament in Carisle. They held a fruit sale to help raise money for the trip. The trip was very successful, as Bregy came home with several trophies. Fifth-grader DaSean Boseman won second place. Eighth-graders Zhang and Kemp won third and second place respectively. Eighth-grader Khaiyon Rice won first place and the chess team itself won fifth place. All of the students who won placed in their division.
“They are an exceptional team,” said middle school science teacher and chess coordinator Karen O’ Hara. “They constantly put in the work to get better at the game. They’re constantly practicing and working on their craft. All of the hard work paid off for them when we went to State and won numerous awards. The students were focused and ready for the task at hand. They never gave up, and even when things got tough they kept their poise. I’m extremely proud of them.”
In the same way athletics build character and drive kids to be physically fit, O’Hara believes chess works out the mind and, more important, teaches important life lessons.
“The goal is not to teach them to be successful,” she said. “The goal is to teach them resiliency when they are unsuccessful. People make mistakes, and you have to learn from those mistakes. Chess is the great equalizer. If you’re willing to think critically and practice hard, you can improve.
“The students learn so much from chess. Strategy, tactics, sportsmanship and critical thinking as far as looking at the board and thinking about what move to make next. These are all skills that the students not only use to play chess, but they can also apply it in life. It’s really a wonderful program. Since taking the program over eight years ago, I’ve always made sure to not only teach the students the game of chess and enjoy it, but to also take the lessons they learn through the game and apply it. They are not just great chess players, but great students.”