Second- and third-graders in Tower Hill’s ChessNuts After School Enrichment program took 1st place in the United States Chess Federation National Elementary Championship! Team members traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to compete with schools from around the country in the K-3 Division. Coach Gregory Rogers, who runs the ChessNuts program at Tower Hill as well as Chess Masters of Delaware, has been striving for years to lead a team to a national title. Students under his tutelage practice after school and on Saturdays to hone their chess-playing strategies. The analytical thinking skills developed through chess improve concentration, memory and creativity — among other benefits.
Jessica Bies, The News JournalPublished 3:47 p.m. ET May 30, 2017 | Updated 9:10 a.m. ET May 31, 2017
In chess, like in so many things in life, there are no takebacks. That's what Gregory Rogers, coach and founder of Chess Masters of Delaware, tries to impart to his students. "Slow down," he tells them. "Take your time. Think about what you're going to do next." For some of the students in his chess club, the lesson is a hard one. Young kids have a hard time slowing down, as Rogers knows well. Many of them first-, second- and third-graders, they see patience as less of a virtue than a hard-to-follow rule. Yet, even as the kids run around the room in a frenzy, Rogers is seeing the lesson stick. This year, second- and third-graders from Tower Hill School in Wilmington took first place in the United States Chess Federation National Elementary Championship, he said. Students from the Independence School took fourth and students from Mount Pleasant took eighth.
Chess Master of Delaware Coach Greg Rogers stands next to trophies won at the 2017 United States Chess Federation National Elementary Championship.
Tad Coleman, a second-grader from Tower Hill, tied for second in the individual standings and placed third overall. A classmate, Ahana Mitra, who is in third grade at Tower Hill, placed fifth.
The kids traveled to Nashville Tennesse, in May to compete with schools from all around the country in the unrated K-3 division. With over 5,500 players, it was the largest "supernationals" event in the chess federation's history. How did Delaware come out on top? Rogers credits his unique coaching style, which focuses as much on patience and mental imagery as actually playing chess. "We want the kids walking through life painting pictures," he said. "Paint that picture of your situation and ask yourself if you like it. Because once you make a move, you can't take it back." A game of chess can last hours, Rogers said, if you take the time to think through each and every move. But for kids, sitting still for that long can be difficult, to say the least. Which is why one of Coach Rogers' most important rules is... "No sugar!" Ahana Mitra said. The chess club's Saturday practices last up to five hours, and the kids are only allowed healthy snacks. Sometimes, Rogers makes them play the games in their heads, mentally visualizing each move before speaking the next out loud. "Our coach teaches us different strategies," said Julian Howard, a fifth-grader from Lombardy Elementary.
Students from the Chess Masters of Delaware a the 2017 United States Chess Federation National Elementary Championship in Nashville, Tennessee.
The most important thing is "to focus," said Chandler French from Springer Middle School. Students in the chess club are from both Delaware and Pennsylvania, Rogers said. It is the largest chess club in the three-state area with over 200 participants. It took 30 kids and seven teams to Supernationals in May and won every single one of its tournaments this year. "Without the kids putting in the work, I wouldn't even exist," Rogers said. "I couldn't be prouder of these young men and women because we went undefeated all year." As of now, the club does not have a dedicated practice space, though Rogers would like to someday have his own building to host it in. Instead, practices are held at local schools and also rotate between locations like the New Castle Library, the Brandywine Hundred Library, the Claymont Library and the North Wilmington Branch Library. Practices are held most Saturdays, and Rogers also holds summer and winter chess camps. He also played in a chess club as a kid, as a student at Roberts Vaux Junior High in Philidelphia, and gets his experience from participating in more than 27 different championships. "At the end of the day, I feel like every kid should be made to play chess," he said, saying the lessons he teaches can be applied both to the game and to everyday life. He also wants the kids to be leaders, and to help each other succeed. "Together, everyone achieves more," he told the kids during a recent practice. "If you don't remember anything else I taught you, you have to remember that." For more about the Chess Masters of Delaware, visit www.chessmastersofde.com.