Harmon Elementary School fourth grader Aevia Pryor competes in the 24th annual Utica Community Schools Chess Tournament, which was held April 27 at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights.

Harmon Elementary School fourth grader Aevia Pryor competes in the 24th annual Utica Community Schools Chess Tournament, which was held April 27 at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights.

Photo by Sarah Purlee


UCS chess enthusiasts rank in annual tournament

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published May 10, 2019

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UTICA/STERLING HEIGHTS/SHELBY TOWNSHIP — For Roberts Elementary School fifth grader Vincent Frabotta, the joy of chess lies in setting up his pieces in the middlegame to devise a way to checkmate his opponent.

“All my friends led me to play chess,” he said. “Chess is fun. It’s a mind game.”

Around 246 students gathered to have their kings, queens, bishops and knights duel at the 24th annual Utica Community Schools Chess Tournament, which was held April 27 at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights.

The participating students represented a total of 40 schools throughout the metro Detroit area. The winners in various school grade brackets earned trophies and medals.

Nineteen students who placed in the tournament are UCS students, with two of those earning first place in their divisions: Evan Aeck, from Eppler Junior High School, ranked at the top in the grades nine through 12 division, and Alex John, from Morgan Elementary School, took first in the sixth-grade division.

Frabotta, 11, earned second place in his division and also earned a gold medal in the contest overall. According to school officials, he went undefeated for five games before losing a tiebreaker.

“It felt really good, considering it was my first year in chess and my first tournament,” he said.

Scott Burnham, a fifth-grade Roberts Elementary School teacher and chess coach, said UCS’ kindergarten division and grades seven and eight division were large compared to previous years.

“I feel like the kids are getting a better grasp through internet play and the apps on the phones, and I can see the improvement,” he said.

Burnham said there is no one particular way to teach a beginner the strategies of chess.

“It depends on their age level,” he said. “For a kindergartner, I’m going to start them with pawns, but for a person who understands the bigger picture, I’m going to start with how you end (the game) and work backwards.”

Burnham coaches the Eppler Elephants, Flickinger Knights and Roberts Rooks chess clubs. When it comes to the UCS chess clubs’ strength, Burnham said that the leaders are volunteers.

“There is an ebb and flow to the clubs because of the volunteer status,” he said. “The clubs go year by year.”

Burnham said he is thinking of starting his own chess club, It’s Your Move, independent of the school district. He said it could begin in the late summer and would be open to anyone, including students outside UCS and beginning adults.

“I’m looking at putting the pieces together,” he said. “I think it’s a very strong possibility.”

Learn more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000. Visit Burnham’s It’s Your Move website at itsyour movechess.weebly.com.

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