By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
The Ray Elementary School Chess Club won first place in its section in the Chicago Scholastic Chess League Renaissance Knights Competition.
Melinda Burgin and Henry Samra, 5th graders at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., were two of the five team members that competed in the competition earlier this month.
“The tournament was a great way to improve skills and practice discipline,” Melinda Burgin said.
“I tried to stay calm and play the competition like it was a regular game,” Samra said.
Segun Kamara, chess coach at Ray and chess instructor for the Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation, said the team’s casual approach to the competition is what helped them win.
“The fact that they have fun, they want to play and they are patient is what I think helped them win the tournament,” Kamara said. “Even when some of them were losing, they kept their cool. Sometimes being persistent and waiting for a game to turn in your favor will help you win.”
Each member of the winning team received his or her own medal and the team received a trophy that is currently on display in the school’s trophy case.
The team, which has 15 members in total, was reinstated at the school by Ray parent Sharon Burgin, who also serves as the chess club advisor.
Sharon Burgin, whose been teaching her daughter Melinda how to play chess since the age of seven, said she believes that the game of chess should be a part of every school’s curriculum.
“Chess teaches sportsmanship, problem solving, focus and self confidence,” Sharon Burgin said. “Anyone can learn to play chess. You don’t have to be athletic or have any special skills — and you can get a college scholarship.”
Once she restarted the program at Ray Sharon Burgin, called the Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation to find a coach for the program. Melinda Burgin is a part of the foundation’s All-Girl’s Club so the Burgins have a long relationship with the foundation.
The Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation, which was founded in 2005 by David Heiser, is a Chicago-based non-profit that has partnered with Chicago Public Schools and other organizations to bring the educational benefits of chess to children and young people by providing a complete chess curriculum, enrichment programs, tournaments and events.
In addition to the Ray club, the foundation has coaches at Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., and will soon be starting a chess club at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave. In total, the foundation has funded or subsidized more than 15 CPS schools and community chess clubs.
Kamara, who coaches about 50 kids at six different schools and the West Town Branch Public Library, works with Ray students once a week for about an hour and a half teaching them different strategies and showing them past games played by chess masters, then letting them practice what they’ve learned.
“Chess is more than just a game. It teaches critical thinking and complex problem solving skills,” Kamara said. “Studies have shown that it helps kids do better with math skills like pre algebra.”
The winning Ray team will go on to compete in the 6th Annual Greater Chicago K-12 Championships on Feb. 7 at McCormick Place.