Edwards Elementary Chess Club – Ames Community School District

Every Tuesday and Thursday, sometimes as early as 12:10 p.m., a line begins to form outside a hall at Edwards Elementary School. Anxious students walk in and out, checking the board for their name and whether they are part of group one or two. Phrases like “Have you signed up?” and “You’re in the second group,” echo down the hallway. The excitement is palpable as students walk in and out with lunch in hand. Excitement brought because of the possibility of playing chess.

To most people, Arnabh Swamy looks like a typical 5th grader, focused on schoolwork and friends, with an eye toward the future and college. Still, Swamy started this chess club at Edwards Elementary mostly by accident.

“It actually started because I wanted to play a chess match against my teacher,” Swamy said.

“It took a while for Ms. Lynch to have a moment to play, and during that time other children started to take an interest in chess.”

A game of chess turned into two, then four, and now 70 students cross a room for the opportunity to play. Initially a club for 5th graders, now 3rd and 4th graders can participate. As a result, two time blocks were created. One from 12:20 p.m. to 12:40 p.m. and the other from 12:40 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. At most, the club can have up to 54 people at a time in each time block.

“We used to meet in the conference room,” Swamy adds, “and after more people joined, we asked if we could have a bigger room.”

Preparation for Chess Club works a bit like a well-oiled machine, which makes it hard to remember that it was created by fifth graders. Helping Swamy organize the club is fellow 5th grader Gwen Burrell. She says after Swamy’s idea, she created posters to spread the word, and the rest is history. The duo spend around 90 minutes preparing for Chess Club, matching opponents and dividing the participants into two separate groups. While we’re playing chess, Burrell is the one running the show.

“I play chess but Gwen makes sure everything is organized,” Swamy said.

“I’m good at taking charge,” Burrell added.

Swamy has been playing chess for just over 5 years, a game he learned to play from his father. Although he loves the game, his favorite thing is that it’s a strategy game.

“Playing with other people and trying new moves is my favorite part,” admits Swamy. “If I see other people making a move, I try to learn from it and use it when I play.”

With such a well organized club, it’s hard to imagine what could happen next. Swamy and Burrell admit that they have several students who would rather learn to play chess. While it’s not something they’re able to offer now, they hope in the future it’s something that can be added.

In the meantime, Swamy encourages any student interested in a club to give it a try. “Sometimes if you just don’t want to join, you should try to do it your way,” he adds. “Play alone until you’re more comfortable and want to play with other people.”

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