by Madaleine Wattenbarger
Lovett Memorial Library’s chess program has an unlikely cast of characters. Excitable 9-year-olds find a place alongside more-seasoned high school players, who, in turn, compete against adult chess aficionados.
Even parents play a role in the group. Luke and Kim Prendergast, whose 17-year-old son Dylan was one of the club’s initial members, act as coordinators and assistants. And behind it all stands Cooper Russell, who started the Mt. Airy library’s weekly chess club five years ago.
The endeavor didn’t stop there. Two years ago, the club spawned a competitive chess team. It consisted of about six members, spanning an age range of eight years. And, according to Luke Prendergast, “It’s been successful – it’s been scary successful.”
Their accomplishments include winning first place in December’s local Masterminds Tournament. At the state tournament in Carlisle, 11-year-old Elias Sell received honorable mention.
On June 11, team members Santiago Zachary Claudio, Dylan Prendergast and Devante Davis won first, second and third place, respectively, in a tournament at High School of the Future. This July, funding from Friends of the Free Library allowed for one more expansion: a mini chess camp, which culminated Friday the 15th in a mini-tournament.
“Tournament chess is different from other kinds of playing chess,” Russell explained, so members of the chess team contributed their expertise as assistant directors. The event brought not only a large group, but also a diverse one. About 50 kids attended, hailing from all over the city.
Students and adults alike appreciate the diversity that chess encourages.
“Anyone can beat anyone,” said 9-year-old Reuben Wyatt. If you think you can win, you can.”
Wyatt began to play only a year ago. He’s enjoyed learning and competing, despite being the youngest member of the team.
Russell echoes his sentiment.
“Chess can be played by anyone of any age,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a big strong kid or an athlete. If you like chess, you can play chess.”
The weekly chess club reflects that sense of openness. Elementary-schoolers, adults and adolescents alike gather around the tables in the meeting room each Wednesday evening. The game brings together rookies and veterans – and encourages novices to develop into experts.
“It’s neat to see them learn,” Luke Prendergast said.
The chess club regularly draws about 40 players, and he particularly enjoys working with the youngest kids.
“The little guys, the 5-year-olds, begin at one table,” he continued, “and then there’s the teenagers and the older guys, and it’s neat to see them get better and compete against each other.”
Even Prendergast didn’t have much chess experience before his son Dylan learned to play about 10 years ago. He helped Russell begin the team and, like many of the other participants, he’s found that chess has something for everyone.
Dylan particularly appreciates the camaraderie among members.
“Through playing chess with each other and going to tournaments, our friendships have grown very strongly,” he said.
It aids him in other areas, too.
“Chess helps me focus on my schoolwork better,” Dylan said. “When I play, I can concentrate on the person in front of me.”
In the future, Russell hopes to include the Chestnut Hill Library in the chess program.
“We’ll keep growing,” he says, “as long as we keep getting people who like playing chess.”