Fifth-graders play three rounds of chess, switching to play a different opponent after each timed round, during chess club action at Princeton Elementary in Lakeview Public Schools March 28. Coaches — sixth-graders who were in the club when they were fifth-graders — stand at the end of each table, ready to answer questions about the game.

Fifth-graders play three rounds of chess, switching to play a different opponent after each timed round, during chess club action at Princeton Elementary in Lakeview Public Schools March 28. Coaches — sixth-graders who were in the club when they were fifth-graders — stand at the end of each table, ready to answer questions about the game.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Chess club a success at elementary school in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 29, 2019

 Fifth-grader Ryan “Ready Rock” Hill moves a piece during chess club action at Princeton Elementary in Lakeview Public Schools March 28.

Fifth-grader Ryan “Ready Rock” Hill moves a piece during chess club action at Princeton Elementary in Lakeview Public Schools March 28.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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STERLING HEIGHTS — How do you get more than 100 fifth-graders to stop talking at once?

Put them in front of a chess board.

“It’s a pretty cool sight to see. You see 100 kids playing chess. They have to be absolutely quiet. All you’re hearing is the chess pieces hit the board and the clocks being touched,” said Cory Sheridan, a fifth-grade teacher at Princeton Elementary in Lakeview Public Schools.

Sheridan is in charge of the school’s chess club. Begun eight years ago at Ardmore Elementary and carried over to Princeton Elementary when Sheridan moved schools, 83 percent of the 126 fifth-graders at the school have joined this year’s chess club.

“It teaches so many things. How to think ahead, be strategic. It gives kids an opportunity, who have not been part of a sports team, (to) be part of a team,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan has been playing the game since middle school and said that he was first inspired to begin a chess club by his brother, a teacher in Utica Community Schools. In his first two years in Lakeview, he was teaching at Ardmore and began the club there. When he changed buildings in the district, he began a new club at Princeton.

“Nowadays, people are always so quick to react. You can’t do that in chess. You have to always think a few steps ahead,” he said.

Sheridan said that he made the game exciting in a few ways for the kids: The club got T-shirts complete with nicknames on the back, and he took the students to a chess tournament at Henry Ford II High School in Utica Community Schools.

“Anything to get the kids excited, get them to think and believe that chess club is the best thing. That’s my goal: to make it fun and exciting,” he said.

His students are learning skills like sportsmanship, teamwork and planning ahead, along with the game of chess, he said. While most of the fifth-graders had never touched a chess board before joining the club, by the end of the four-month season, he said, they’ve all had wins and all learned the game.

Sheridan said that he only keeps track of wins and pairs the students to play against others with similar skill levels so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

“This year, I had 30 former chess (club members) come back and act as mentors/coaches,” he said. “It’s kind of like a pay it forward.”

Rayana Collier, a sixth-grader at Jefferson Middle School, is one of those coaches. She said that she enjoys returning to see old friends, and she still plays chess at home for fun.

She enjoyed her year in the club when she was a fifth-grader because “it was fun and easy,” she said.

The kids have a great time playing and going to the tournament no matter what, Sheridan said. Each year there are students with no points, students with medals, and students in his club who bring home trophies for their accomplishments.

He said it “gives kids an opportunity” to do something after school.

Once a year, Sheridan invites parents in to watch the after-school matches, and that, he said, gets the kids even more excited to try their best.

This year, parents came out to support their players March 28.

Keith Quail said that he loves seeing his son play the game.

“He’s not a big video gamer,” Quail said. Chess is teaching his son “how to think ahead, how to have patience,” he added.

Lakora White said that her fifth-grade son had been looking forward to joining the club since he was in the third grade.

“He was super excited,” she said. “The strategies, coming up with the different strategies and how to win, it’s not always cut and dry.”

She said that her son often rushes through things, but chess is making him pause and think before making a move.

“He has to strategize the move before just running off,” she said.

Sheridan said that he wouldn’t be able to keep the chess club going without the support of his teaching partners, Devon Ciegotura and Valerie Bogoevski, or the students who return from the middle school to be coaches.

“Nowadays, with all the video games, it’s a game that’s been a lost art,” he said. “It’s something they can pass on to their kids someday.”

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