Wayne County Wanderings: Chess Club at Lakeside Elementary

A little more than a year ago, a fortuitous meeting took place between Robin Sampson and Dan Flannery.

Sampson is the librarian at Lakeside Elementary School here in Honesdale. She and Flannery, a digital content producer at Highlights for Children, were chatting over a friendly game of Scrabble when the subject of chess came up.

“I'd love to start up a chess club for kids,” Robin volunteered.

“Well, I'd love to teach a chess club for kids!” Dan answered enthusiastically.

And so, just like that, the germ of a wonderful idea was planted, took root and began to grow. Now, a little more than 12 months later, that notion has blossomed beyond anyone's wildest expectations.

“I was hoping to get 15 or 20 kids interested,” Robin said. “Boy, was I surprised by how many signed up.”

Wildly Popular

The initial registration list swelled to an eye-popping 125 names … this despite the fact that the club would begin meeting at 7:45 a.m., nearly an hour before the start of the school day.

The program, which will be wrapping up its first year of existence next week, has attracted an enthusiastic cross-section of boys and girls, grades 3-5.

Incredibly, a total of 80 children have achieved perfect attendance marks.

“It's pretty awesome,” said Dan, who's originally from New Jersey and began playing chess at age four.

“A full one-fifth of the entire student body is in chess club. The kids are having a great time and learning a game they can play all their lives.”

Sampson was quick to agree.

“It's so great to see,” said Robin, who learned the game at an early age and has fond memories of playing with her family while growing up.

“My granddaughter goes to public school in Astoria. She's only in kindergarten and they have a chess club.

“So, I thought, if they can get kindergartners interested there, why can't we have a club here at Lakeside?”

Principal Sandra Rickard loved the idea and approved it whole-heartedly.

Before long, the trio of teacher, mentor and principal had acquired a total of 23 boards … and the games had begun!

Chalk Talk

When I walked into the Lakeside Elementary library Tuesday morning, I was amazed by what I saw.

More than 20 chess boards were arranged and ready to roll. Smiling boys and girls were filing in, stowing their backpacks and chatting happily.

A whiteboard had been set up at the back of the room and more students were already gathering for a daily chess lesson.

After the equivalent of a five minute “chalk talk,” given by Dan, the group dispersed and headed off to play.

After talking with Robin for a few minutes, I was invited to one of the tables where Luke Murray was giving a mini-lesson.

I first met Luke this past winter during the Honesdale Biddy Basketball Association season and was pleased to see his level of interest in chess.

Luke was engaging in an activity called “Each One Teach One.” The concept he was passing on to a fellow student was that of a “ladder checkmate,” using only a queen and rook.

Luke and his young protege alternated moves, one pursuing and the other fleeing. When it was all over and the king was hopelessly trapped in a corner, the two reversed roles with a smile and a laugh.

It's not a stretch to guess that many of these students were first exposed to chess through apps on their phones or tablets. However, Flannery is pleased to report that there's still a strong desire for personal interaction in the real world.

Winning & Losing

An interesting topic came up during my visit to the Lakeside Chess Club, that of winning and losing.

Both Robin and Dan admitted they weren't really sure how third, fourth and fifth graders would react to an ancient game with clear-cut winners and losers.

I immediately related to their ambivalence, seeing as I have the rise of an “everybody plays, everybody gets a trophy” philosophy in youth sports these past 20 years or so.

“We lost some kids in the very beginning,” Robin said. “But, the vast majority kept coming back. We stress to them that we learn much more from our losses than from our wind … in chess and in life.”

Point well-taken!

I especially liked the idea of older, more experienced kids teaching the younger ones fundamentals, strategy and time-honored tactics.

It's a formula that's already paying tangible dividends as several boys and girls are excelling at the game. During a recent tournament organized at Lakeside, these talented students earned top honors...

•Third Grade: Kadyn Kinney (first place), Luca Girodano (second), Wyatt Avery (third), Liam Dennis (fourth).

•Fourth Grade: Charlie Propst (first place), Finley Osborne (second), Colyn Farrug (third), Anna Brown, Jack Goodwin, Robert Ammann (T-fourth).

•Fifth Grade: Luke Murray (first place), Paul Reiprich (second), Jared Ahern (third), River Fotusky (fourth).

Looking Ahead

Just because the school year is coming to a close doesn't mean that local boys and girls can't continue to hone their chess skills.

In fact, a wonderful weekly event called “Chess & Lemonade” will be held throughout the summer.

According to Dan, the gathering will take place each Saturday starting at 10 a.m. and running until noon.

It will be held at Loose Leaf Pages on Main Street in Honesdale and hosted by Cathleen Rivera.

“I'm really happy that we can continue it,” Dan said. “We're also very grateful to Cathleen for giving us a place to come and play.”

For more information on the summer chess program, please call Loose Leaf Pages at 570-253-0907.