- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - On any given Sunday, many kids can be found lounging at home playing video games, watching TV or playing with friends, but for one group of children, weekend afternoons have been spent learning the game of chess.

For the past 13 weeks, members of the Washington County Kings & Queens Chess Academy have been meeting at the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Branch of the Washington County Free Library system in Hagerstown, learning the strategies and tricks of playing chess. Under the direction of Jim Doyle, a long-term substitute teacher with Washington County Public Schools, they also have gained patience, determination and focus through the two-person board game.

“I learned as a kid, but I never had an opportunity to do this,” said Doyle, who added a twist to his club.

A resident of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Doyle takes his students to meet and play chess with different groups around the area. The club has played against midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and on April 26, they played with dancers from The City Ballet School in Hagerstown after watching a rehearsal of “Swan Lake.”

Before the club wraps up in a week, Doyle said he plans to take the kids to a firehouse to play chess with firefighters.

“I’m trying to expose the kids to different things through chess and to broaden their perspective,” Doyle said. “The idea is to get the kids starting to think about college and what they want to do.”

The club meets from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays at the library and is open to those in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Twelve-year-old Kaleb Kalbflesh, the oldest member of the club, said he loves the strategy involved in playing chess.

“You picture it in your mind and it’s like a real battle,” he said.

The youngest in the club, 5-year-old Atreyu Logic Farrar-Hidrobo, said he loves playing against his friends.

Atreyu’s father, Gregorio Hidrobo, also an avid chess player, said the game has become part of his son’s weekly routine.

“He loves socializing with the kids, the field trips and playing with Dad,” Hidrobo said. “He knows how to move all the pieces. He even got a tournament board for his birthday.”

Doyle’s idea for a local chess club grew from his job as a substitute teacher at Hagerstown’s Eastern Elementary School.

“They asked me to start a chess club for grade-level kids in math and reading,” he said. “It would be the last 30 minutes of the day.”

But when he learned that the school was also starting a line-dancing club, Doyle said he worried that the kids would choose dancing over a quiet game of chess. The first day, he was pleasantly surprised.

“The chess club was filled to capacity,” he said. “I started working with the kids and they blew me away with their focus.”

With that, Doyle said he made a trip to New York City to learn more about the chess curriculum in its public schools. Chess is taught in New York City schools to help students improve academically and build self-esteem, something for which Doyle is pushing in Washington County Public Schools.

In fact, Doyle recently went before the Washington County Board of Education to talk about the benefits of teaching chess in schools. Since the board made no decision, Doyle said he plans to continue his push, hopefully getting some parents to join him.

Doyle said there are many educational benefits of teaching chess to students. He cites studies that show an increase in cognitive development, maturity, improved social skills and self-confidence.

“The benefits of chess have been well documented,” he said.

In the meantime, Doyle said the library has been very supportive of his program.

“They want me to continue next year with two 14-week semesters, one in the fall and one in the spring,” he said. “The library branches in Boonsboro and Williamsport are also interested.”

To learn more about the club, go to its Facebook page: Washington County “Kings & Queens” Chess Academy.

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Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., https://www.herald-mail.com

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