BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield School District held its 41st annual elementary school chess championships on Saturday, May 5, at Fairview Elementary School. The tournament was under the direction of Fairview sixth-grade language arts teacher and chess club adviser, Mary Donovan, with the assistance of the Fairview Home & School Association.
The championship is traditionally held the first Saturday of May after each public elementary school in Bloomfield has had its own elimination rounds to determine the top three players at the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade levels.
This past Saturday, 72 students started at 9 a.m., the morning of the competition. The doors to the multipurpose room where the play was taking place were closed. The room was off-limits to everyone not playing or officiating and the doors only opened for departing students. By 2 p.m. it was all over. First, second and third place was awarded for each grade level that was entered, so there were nine winners. Here they are.
Fourth-grade: first, Aria Abalos, Demarest; second, Aviva Chu, Oakview; and third Nina Foncello, Demarest. Fifth-grade: first, Francis Osondu, Oakview, second, Osiris Mendez, Carteret; and third, Jun Fung Brendon Ng, Demarest; Sixth-grade: first, Anika Bhat, Demarest; second, Jun Yi Bryan, Demarest; and third, Mateo Jaramillo, Fairview.
Somewhat the powerhouse, Demarest Elementary had five of the nine winners. In an email, Demarest Principal Mary Todaro said she often plays chess with her students during lunchtime, for a number of reasons.
“It involves problem solving, making predictions, and planning,” she said. “These are skills that we teach and encourage throughout every subject area and grade level.”
Todaro said she is sometimes pleasantly surprised to find that a student who is struggling academically or socially is a remarkable chess player.
“I will admit that I have lost to a student on several occasions,” she said. “And although some students come to school knowing the game from a parent, I must give most of the credit for our success to our coach and advisor, Ms. Jessica Barton. She is patient, encouraging and an excellent teacher. We are so proud of our entire chess team.”
Another winning student came from Carteret Elementary where the chess club advisor is Justin Wynne.
In an email, Carteret Principal John Baltz said that there are many benefits in playing chess.
“It fosters logic, critical thinking, and creativity,” he said. “Children’s visual memory, attention span, and spatial-reasoning abilities also improve.”
Baltz said in order to play well, the student has to focus completely on the objective — capturing the opponent’s king.
“As you constantly visualize the board, its pieces, your moves and your opponent’s every possible countermove, your power of concentration grows,” he said. “As your concentration grows, it becomes easier to memorize past games and classic strategies which also attacks problem solving skills. “
Fairview Principal Ginamarie Mignone also had a winner. In an email, Mignone said the school was very proud of sixth-grader Mateo Jaramillo, who placed third. The Fairview chess club is advised by Donovan.
“Chess is a game of strategy that teaches planning and foresight,” Mignone said. “Strategy games, like chess, can promote prefrontal cortex development which helps us to make better decisions. Chess requires a great deal of concentration and problem solving, skills that will benefit us in your everyday life. It is a super fun way to exercise our brains.”