Matula Knights chess club members third graders Kaleb Hakim, left, Nathan Pankowski and Garrett Carson and second grader Nicholas Pankowski play bughouse chess during a club meeting at Mary H. Matula Elementary School. Bughouse calls for teams of two to play against each other. Photo courtesy of CCPS.
La Plata, MD – Mary H. Matula Elementary School’s chess club, the Matula Knights, has seen its membership grow from a dozen to more than 50 since club sponsors Christina Caron and Judy Gordon, along with volunteer coach Bernhard Prebble, opened it up to any student who expressed an interest in learning.
“We don’t say ‘no’ to anyone,” Caron said. “We’ve had some who started and couldn’t play a lick,” Gordon said. “Now they all do.”
The club meets at 8:15 a.m. Tuesdays before school starts at 9:20 a.m.
“There’s nothing better for kids than chess,” said Prebble, who has been playing for 50 years and coaching Matula students for four. “It’s been a joy. The things I’m seeing the kids do are spectacular. These kids are never bored.”
At the winter chess tournament held in February, the top three players in the kindergarten through second grade division were Matula students, all second graders. Jacob Golder placed first, Ryan Hughes came in second with Nicholas Pankowski taking third place. In the fifth and sixth grade division Kyle Blanton, a Matula fifth grader, placed first.
During club meetings, the students play traditional games but also learn speed chess and bughouse — a variant where a game is played by two-person teams. If they’re not playing a game, students are working on puzzles from Chess Life magazine that will help them improve their skills.
Third graders Kaleb Hakim and Nathan Pankowksi spent a recent morning playing bughouse against Garrett Carson, a third grade student and Nathan’s younger brother, Nicholas Pankowski.
“It’s really fun,” Garrett said. “It teaches you logic and skills.”
“It’s harder than checkers,” Nathan and Nicholas say in unison. “Way harder,” Nathan adds.
Ryann Tompkins has been a part of the club since she was in kindergarten. Now in fourth grade, Ryann said she is sticking with it because she likes to play chess with her friends and “learn their strategies,” she said.
Charles County Public Schools holds chess tournaments twice a year — in the fall and winter. The tournaments are open to public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade as well as to those who attend private schools.
“Chess is so important,” said Ann Taylor, content specialist for gifted and differentiated services. “It teaches students from a young age many skills that will carry them through in life. It teaches them to think critically and strategically, to anticipate and plan for action. It teaches them good sportsmanship and civility.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,300 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.