AJUSD Student Chess League Begins

FPES Roadrunners “Meep, Meep” the PTES Bobcats in 1st AJUSD Elementary School Chess League Tourney

By Dana Trumbull

Learning to play chess can enhance a student’s creativity, improve concentration and focus, develop critical thinking skills, boost memory and support superior academic performance. With chess clubs active in all three elementary schools, thanks to annual winter visitor volunteer Joe Gerber, approximately 40 AJUSD elementary school students are enriching their lives as they enhance their skills.

When Gerber, a Massachusetts native, began wintering in Apache Junction eight years ago, he realized that he wanted to do something positive in this community. In December 2012, he first contacted the local elementary schools to see if he could establish a chess program in the Apache Junction school district that was similar to the program he had set up in Needham, MA, in the 1980’s and 90’s. “I know from my life experience thus far that chess has greatly enriched my life, and now I have a chance again to show some young students how to play chess and enrich their life over time.”

Desert Vista Elementary School Principal Pat Smith, a chess player, herself, embraced the opportunity to start a chess club in her school. That club is now in its 6th year of existence. In 2014, Superstition Mountain Elementary School opted in and brought the club with them to Four Peaks when the school closed. Peralta Trail Elementary then joined the movement, completing the trifecta of elementary school clubs. And Gerber began to dream of starting an intermural chess league, knowing that students’ skills grow sharper when they compete against more players.

In April 2017, with a few additional volunteers to help coach and coordinate and parents agreeing to provide transportation, Gerber finally received the go ahead to bring the individual clubs together into league competition. On Tuesday, January 23, the long-awaited tourney began, with the first match played between the Four Peaks Roadrunners and Peralta Trail Bobcats at Four Peaks.

The Roadrunners won the match by a score of 6 to 2. The four players from FPES who came away with clear wins were: Jessie Garcia, Gavin Toro, Esmeralda Cortez and Allistar Duarte. Games on Boards 5 through 8 turned out to be draws. Each player involved in a draw receives 1/2 point for their team. Most of the draws came about when a stalemate position was reached.

Additional matches are scheduled throughout February, with the three schools alternating as hosts.

Chess Club students range in age from 8 to 11 years old. Additional volunteers include: Gerry Bruno, FPES; Chad Young and Michael Day, PTES; and Dr. Pam Lane-Garon and Noah Colapreto, DVES. Cactus Canyon Junior High also supports a chess club run by Gerber.

“I love this small league that has formed in the AJUSD,” shared Gerber. “I think the students who participate in the league will gain a great deal of benefit, as long as they stay with it. The students are wonderful to work with. It is great to see their minds grow.”

Additional volunteers are needed to help with the chess program in AJUSD. “The particular needs are at CCJH and FPES,” explained Gerber. “Cactus Canyon has a lot of students interested in playing chess, and the program could run more smoothly if other volunteers would jump in. One or two additional volunteers for FPES could make a very big difference with their program as well.” If interested, contact Joe Gerber at 781-801-0199. A background check and fingerprinting will be required.

Photo above: Chess Club Coordinator Joe Gerber oversees the first AJUSD Elementary School Chess League Tournament

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