Zachary Srnis-The Morning Journal
Students in Lorain City Schools are making waves for their accomplishments on the chess board.
This year is the first time Lorain Schools had students competing at the middle school level.
Bob Brdar, a teacher at Palm Elementary School, is the adviser and founder of the chess group.
Brdar has had elementary school students compete before, but this is the first time students have moved on academically and are competing at the next level while attending Southview Middle School.
“This is the first time I had middle schoolers compete, and it has been a nice addition,” he said. “Sometimes, guys move on to middle school and dropout of chess club.
"But these guys were able to get together and continue on.”
Brdar said the competition this year for his elementary and middle school players have been through the Greater Cleveland Scholastic Chess League.
“In years past, we would just have them practice and take them to the state competition if it was close by,” he said. “Now, we are in this league that has four competitions during the year.
"We had our recent competition in Solon, and the next one is at Rocky River High School (20951 Detroit Road) in February (29). They will then return in April (18-19) for states at Rocky River and the elementary guys will have their state at Westlake High School (27830 Hilliard Blvd.) in March (14). ”
Brdar said being in the league has created a good change of pace for the club.
“We would usually start playing about a month or so into the school year, but this year we started within two weeks," he said. "It’s good to have these competitions during the year; it gives the kids something to measure their skills and learn how to improve outside of my classroom.
"It really prevents them from tiring of it. It helps them to stay sharper for a longer stretch as they compete in December, January and so on. It gives them that instant feedback.”
Brdar said his group, both elementary and middle school levels, are trend setters at the competitions.
“The league is basically comprised of eastside (of Cleveland) schools,” he said. “It features a lot of students from gifted programs or Montessori schools, and we are one of the few urban schools at the competitions.
"We have a lot of guys that haven’t been playing for as many years as the kids from other schools. It shows the dedication these guys have, their willingness to learn and their passion for improving at chess. I’m proud of how well they compete.”
Middle school students coming back
Brdar said it has been fun having the middle school guys come back to compete.
“I’ve had guys comeback, but this is definitely new to have them coming back to prepare for more competitions,” he said. “Dominic Silva (13, an eighth-grader at Southview) finished fourth place in Solon as he was there with a group of other Southview guys (Coleraine White-McCollim, Isaiah Grant and Moses Gutierrez); they’re a good group of kids.
"We have continued on with elementary school, and it has been great to see the kids move on to middle school and still want to come back.”
Brdar said he has had other students come back.
“I have Stephen Smith and Luis Koziura here,” he said. “These are guys who were with me years ago, have graduated from high school, but they still keep coming back.
"They are always calling and texting asking me if I’m still doing chess club and if they can help out after school and on Saturday sessions. Stephen, in 2005 when I was at Longfellow Elementary School, was actually part of my group that actually competed. These guys really give back and take time to help teach the younger guys.”
Silva said Brdar got him into chess.
“I didn’t really play chess before fourth-grade when I was in Mr. Brdar’s class,” he said. “I would sit in his class and he was always talking about it, so I figured I would give it a shot.
"It’s something that has always been interesting to me.”
Silva said chess separates itself from other competitions.
“You don ‘t run and jump so you can’t really get that anxious feeling out by doing that,” he said. “You have to find your own way to focus.
"Being focused is the most important tool you can have when playing chess. You can’t get distracted. Chess helps with that focus mindset that’s important in life.”
Brdar also has Allan Manriquez, 7, a second-grader at Palm Elementary, is at the other end of the spectrum as his youngest player.
“I really like how the game makes you smarter and you learn as you play,” Allan said. “It’s fun as someone makes a play on my rook and how I can play on from that.”
Stephen Smith, who graduated from Lorain High School in 2014 and was with Brdar’s group in 2005, said he loves coming back.
“It’s the nostalgia,” Smith said. “It’s a bunch of young kids having a good time.
"It’s a great environment, there’s nothing better.”
Luis Koziura, a 2016 graduate of Lorain High who was with Brdar in 2010, said he loved the competition.
“It’s great to play, and I remember always having a board and playing with my friends,” Koziura said. “I like to help these guys with focus and changing that mindset.
"It’s important to realize one piece doesn’t make or break a game. If the opponent takes your queen, how do you respond? I want the same joy for these kids that I had. When Mr. Brdar took us to state, and I took fourth, that was a great time.”
Jennette Rivera, whose son Damien Perez, a fifth-grader at Palm Elementary and a member of the chess club, thinks the game is a good hobby for her son.
“He is really passionate about it, and he is one of six cousins who have played with the group over the years,” Rivera said. “It’s a game that not everyone can play, so it’s good that he is learning that skill.”