Riverfield School chess players are kings in their field
It must be something in the water fountains at Riverfield Elementary School, because the school's chess club never fails to impress at the Connecticut State Scholastic Chess Championships. Held this year at Roger Ludlowe Middle School, Riverfield's team captured the state title in not one, but two of six divisions this past Saturday, one of which saw some of the elementary students competing against middle schoolers.
"I'm very excited and proud that the kids are continuing the winning tradition that Riverfield has seen over the past several years," said Kathy Zentner, head of the Riverfield chess program.
Riverfield placed first as a team in the Second/Third-Grade Premier Division, and first in the Fourth/Sixth Grade Premier Division.
Saturday marked the fifth time in the past six years that a Riverfield team has captured a state championship title in one or more divisions at the annual event. Winning two state titles Saturday was no easy feat, as this wasn't a tournament with a handful of schools bothering to compete. Approximately 175 students in kindergarten through eighth grade from 72 schools across the state competed.
Zentner can't put her finger on what makes Riverfield's chess program so successful.
"I don't know what the secret ingredient is," she said.
However, there is a wealth of talent to draw from, as it is the largest scholastic chess club in the state, a fact confirmed by David Aldi, the director of Saturday's event. Whereas other elementary schools might have only 30 to 40 students in their chess clubs, Riverfield has 150. In fact, the group is so large it weekly practice not in a classroom, but in Riverfield's cafeteria.
Four students were picked to represent Riverfield in the second and third grade division Saturday, and 14 were able to compete for the fourth through sixth grade team. Team scores were based on the scores of the top four players. In addition to the two state championship titles, Riverfield placed second in the overall team category, a category that somehow compares elementary school teams with teams as high as eighth grade. However, Riverfield managed to win the overall title at last year's event, which took place in Storrs at the University of Connecticut.
In addition, Riverfield had four individual state championship title winners. Sam Davenport won the third grade championship, Malcolm Katz was the premier division co-champion for among fourth grades, while Greg Arrigo and Johnny Blatt were premier division co-champions for the fifth grade.
Zentner, who is modest about the success of Riverfield chess players during her watch of roughly five years, is nonetheless proud of the youngsters' skills.
"The reason I support this program so strongly is that it has the ability to reach so many kids in so many ways," she said. "We have 150 members in our club, including boys and girls in all grades. We have athletes, musicians, boy scouts, girl scouts, dancers, actors, kids with learning disabilities and attention issues -- shy kids and outgoing kids. But they are all equal across a chess board."
Zentner added, "The kids just love to play because it is a great and challenging game they can enjoy with so many of their peers. But they learn such great life's lessons too -- they learn to think ahead and not make hasty decisions. They realize that every move could have consequences. They learn that winning requires focus, practice and dedication. They learn that it's OK to lose and that you can learn more from losing than from winning.
"They learn to lose with dignity and take responsibility for their actions, because only they are responsible for their result. They gain confidence when they learn to play and succeed at a game that is considered difficult by many kids and adults alike. This self-confidence helps them succeed in other areas of their life as well. All these benefits from a game that they just love to play with their friends. You really can't beat that."