By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – On Feb. 15, right after the final bell, as many as 70 students congregated in the Spring Street School cafeteria to play chess with a champion, U.S. Senior Chess Master Louis Mercuri.
Since 2003, Mercuri has been coming to Spring Street School to play with the school’s Chess Club that meets on certain Friday afternoons when the club is in session. Now in its 15th year, the club is comprised of first- through fourth-graders and Mercuri estimates that it is the largest for this age group in New England.
Parent volunteer Amber Khan, whose fourth-grade son Aahil is a member, explained that the kids divide into small teams, made up of two or three students, who then play against Mercuri in simultaneous matches.
Mercuri has been playing chess since he was about 11 years old. He travels the world to pursue his passion for chess. When not traveling, he is a municipal city planner.
“I teach chess in numerous schools and the Spring Street School experience is truly unique,” he remarked. “So many parents are involved in running the weekly program and with such a supportive administration, it gives many children a great opportunity to learn chess.”
“It’s teamwork, and learning with their peers,” noted Principal Bryan Mabie. “It’s learning about strategy, patience, thinking ahead and planning a move…the experience of just playing against a master who is really playing a game, these kids are really good chess players.”
Mabie also credits the parents who volunteer their time to coordinate and facilitate the group.
Liz Hallee, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, said that her son Holden, a third-grader, has been a part of the club since first grade and he loves the game.
“It is always a pleasure to see the excitement and enthusiasm for chess on Friday afternoons,” Mercuri said. “What a great program.”