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Chess clubs make UCS their castle

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 18, 2015

 Sixth-graders Aaron Podoris and Aishani Moradia play chess on the floor while sixth-graders Gabe Whitt and Gabby Lopez play on a table at Roberts Elementary School March 12.

Sixth-graders Aaron Podoris and Aishani Moradia play chess on the floor while sixth-graders Gabe Whitt and Gabby Lopez play on a table at Roberts Elementary School March 12.

Photos by Deb Jacques

Hundreds of Utica Community Schools students in kindergarten through 12th grade are continuing to check out their schools’ chess clubs and learn the strategies behind the classic game.

Chess coach Scott Burnham runs chess clubs at three elementary schools: the Roberts Rooks, the Flickinger Knights and the Dresden Dragons. An evening chess club for students in grades seven  through 12 also meets at Utica High School, he said.

He added that there are other UCS chess clubs that he doesn’t run, estimating the total number of UCS chess players at “at least 500.”

Burnham, a fifth-grade teacher at Roberts, said the Roberts club has around 140 participating students. In February, students from the club’s Team D took home a Michigan Scholastic Team Chess Championship, which students won while playing on the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The winning students on Team D were Evan Aeck, Chase Follis, Keegan Forbes and Stephen Smith.

UCS chess players will compete May 17 during the 20th annual UCS Chess Tournament, which is scheduled to be held at Henry Ford II High School. The tournament is open to any K-12 student, even to those outside the district, Burnham said.

Burnham said he teaches the students strategies and tactics at the clubs in a structured setting so that the players are equipped to act skillfully when they enter various tournaments. Students often learn how to play the game from scratch in the clubs, but Burnham added that lots of educational tools and apps exist to help them along.

“There hasn’t been a time that it’s easier to get into chess,” he said.

Burnham said a majority of the students who choose to enter the chess club are boys, though he said one of the most talented players that has participated is a girl.

He explained that the game teaches kids everything from logic to problem solving, and it’s also been known to raise IQ, and math and reading scores. In addition, the game teaches its players lessons on deliberation and commitment, he said.

“Tournament chess is touch chess,” Burnham explained. “It teaches consequences, which kids these days have to think about. By touching a piece, you’re committed to moving it, for better or worse.”

Roberts fifth-grader Stephen Smith, 11, said he felt the tournament turned out well. “I went in and thought, ‘Hey, let’s try to do something this year,’” he said.

Smith said it was his third time going to the event, and he plans to play chess for a very long time so he can keep improving and challenging himself.

“I would always like to get better at what I’m doing,” he said.

Roberts fifth-grader Evan Aeck, 11, said he has been playing chess for about seven years. He said his favorite part about the game is the strategy.

“You have to plan your moves ahead,” he said.

Learn more about Utica Community Schools by visiting or by calling (586) 797-1000. Learn more about the 20th annual UCS Chess Tournament by visiting www.ucschess