teacher Robert Gray just hoped to expose his students to chess and teach them the strategies involved with the game.
In recent years, Gray has done that and more as the chess club has quickly become one of the most popular extracurricular activities at the school. In all, Essex Elementary has 60 members in its chess club with 45 regulars meeting weekly after school to play and learn more about the game.
“We’ve opened it up to everyone and want it to be fun, but it has also become very competitive for many of the students,” Gray said.
This competitiveness was on full display last month at when several students from Essex Elementary came home with trophies from the Maryland Scholastic Championships. Essex took second place in the tournament's novice division, which featured 28 teams and 179 players.
The team from Essex included fourth graders Nathan Panto (first place among individuals), Kacie Akers (37th place) and Travis Holland (seventh place), along with fifth grader Josh Feeheley (33rd place).
Fourth grader Gage Flanary placed12th out of 54 players in the more advanced JV division. Flanary and Gabrielle Del Rosario helped lead Essex to a seventh place finish among teams in the advanced division.
“Chess just seemed like a fun game to play,” Panto said. “I can’t believe I won all five of my games in my first tournament.”
Akers said she credits Gray for bringing in so many students into the club.
“He started to show us how to play in class and it looked like so much fun,” Akers said. “It was cool that we did so well.”
Essex Elementary students will get another chance to display their chess skill on Saturday at when they compete in the first-ever Baltimore County Public Schools Chess Championships. At least 110 students are expected to compete in the championship.
Schools can enter teams from one to five members. There will be three tournament divisions: elementary school, middle school and high school. Official chess rules will be in effect.
Trophies will be given for the top three teams and top eight individuals in each division. Only players and directors will be allowed in the tournament area during play. All others must remain in a waiting area.
“Events like those really teach the students how to think through moves,” Gray said. “Early on games are usually lost by a player making a bad move. Pretty soon, though, these kids will be able to win games by making good moves instead of waiting for an opponent to make a mistake.”