Arverne Chess Club Clocks in One Year of Youth Making Moves

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There is a saying, “Life is like the game of chess,” and for the last year, every Saturday at St. John Baptist Church, under the tutelage of Head Coach Omar Graves, local youth at the Arverne Chess Club (ACC) have been dedicatedly learning why thinking ahead and thinking strategically are critical, not just on the chess board, but in life—and their hard work is paying off. In January, the band of chess players will be competing in their first tournament.

Edwin Williams, The Heart of Rockaway (THOR) Civic vice president, said he came up with the idea for ACC over a year ago after attending a chess competition in Manhattan.

Williams said, “After seeing youth compete in a tournament in the city, I was so inspired. I said to myself, ‘Why not start a local chess team here with THOR and get other partners involved?’ I asked Gerry Romski, project executive for Arverne By the Sea, to sponsor our chess team, and approached Jondrea Williams-Graves, who runs the Josephine Johnson Tutorial Program at St. John, about a space to teach the kids. Jondrea was immediately on board, and said her husband, Omar, would love to teach. So right after the tutoring program, our kids go straight to chess; and Gerry generously provides resources for our club like chess boards, pizza and refreshments for the children, and club tees for their first tournament.”

Going to St. John on Saturdays is a double-win for the children, as they get free academic tutoring from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., they get to learn the game of chess amongst their peers. ACC currently has 15 children, spanning from ages 15 to as young as six years old.

At the end of January, ACC will be competing against teams from Rosedale, Bayswater, Breezy Point, and Edgemere, who recently came in second place in a competition.

Graves exuberantly expressed his pleasure in coaching the children and instilling values he believes not only apply to the game of chess, but in life.

“I learned the game from my father when I was about 10 years old, and it just stuck with me. The game always kept me strategically thinking, and with my 12-year-old son, I started teaching him chess strategies such as to think before you make the next move, which goes not just with chess, but with life. The youth of his generation are stuck in the video game era, so pulling them away from the screen for at least two hours to learn the game of chess, is so gratifying. As we know, chess promotes growth and exercises both sides of the brain.

“You see what’s going on with many of our kids today, whether it’s drugs or smoking. However, learning chess teaches them to think ahead. Like if I make this move, what will be the outcome? I tell them to think before you make that move—like with life, think before you act because there is a cause and effect to everything we do,” Graves said. “I encourage all youth and their parents to come to our chess club and put their thinking caps on.”

For 12-year-old Tyler Williams, learning chess has been a game changer. “Chess has taught me how to be patient, and I like how I can outthink my opponent by creating strategies that sometimes actually work. You really have to study the chess pieces and think ahead and anticipate what moves your opponent is going to do,” Williams said. His eight-year-old brother, Christian, agrees. “Chess is a very complicated thinking game. Even sometimes when I take both wins and losses, I learn from both.”

Eighth-grader Angelina Rodriguez shared that learning chess at St. John has also been a great experience because of the environment. “We all support and learn from each other, and learning at St. John is great because our club is well structured, and amongst a group of friends, we get to learn in a loving and nurturing environment, instead of just in a classroom,” she said.

Arverne Chess Club meets every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. For info, email: heartofrockawaycivic@gmail or feel free to stop in and join the club at St. John Baptist Church (74-05 Rockaway Beach Blvd).

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