By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The chess club at PS 503 was founded only two years ago, but already the members are proving that they have what it takes to be champions. The club, called the Chessmates, won the Mayor’s Cup, a citywide competition for chess-loving students, in May and spent the remainder of the term basking in the glow of congratulations from students and teachers at the Sunset Park school.
Now that summer vacation is underway, the glow of victory is likely to continue to burn brightly, their coach said.
“It was an amazing achievement. We’re so proud of them. They felt great being honored by the PTA and by the councilwoman,” teacher-coach Carlos Grapuera told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“Very few of our kids have any type of chess background,” he said. Many of the students joined the fledgling club, learned how to play chess, and then quickly excelled at the game. “The kids love it. They look to play chess during their lunch period and whenever they have some free time,” the coach said.
The PS 503 chess club took first place in the Mayor’s Cup competition among all public and private elementary schools throughout the five boroughs. The Tournament took place at PS 11 in Chelsea and was open to qualifying teams throughout the city. The Chessmates outscored not only every public elementary school, but also private schools such as Browning and Dalton.
The club members were the guests of honor at a recent meeting of the school’s PTA, where Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) presented them with City Council citations.
“I felt very proud of the chess team and of myself,” said Edwin Lucero, a team member who recently graduated from PS 503. The PTA tribute was a real honor, he said. “It felt really good inside because it ended the school year in such a positive way,” he said.
Grapuera, an art teacher who developed a love of chess when he was in high school, works closely with fellow teachers Matt Silverman and Rachel Hsieh to help club members perfect their skills. “There are 40 kids involved in the club. We have a steady group of 25 or 26 kids who compete in tournaments,” Grapuera said.
The three teachers received help from Chess In Schools, an organization which assists schools seeking to introduce the game to students.
“I think chess can be educationally important to the kids,” Grapuera. “There’s a lot of problem solving that goes with it. It teaches them to persevere. It teaches them how to deal with losing. It’s also an important outlet for their competitive drive,” he said.
Nelson Lucero, Edwin’s father, said being on the team has changed his son. “Ever since chess, he just does things differently. He concentrates more and thinks his decisions through. He concentrates. I can see that he is focused,” Lucero said.
Since Edwin joined the team, “I have seen that his grades have gone up,” Lucero said.
Edwin loves the game. “It’s a thinking game,” he said. He had a great time competing in tournaments, he said.
His chess career will continue as he moves into intermediate school. Edwin will attend Intermediate School 318 in Williamsburg starting in September. “It has a chess program,” Nelson Lucero said.