Centennial MS Chess Club finishes first in regional

Donovan Grace (left front) is pictured in Round 3 of the tournament.

Competing in the Title 1 Miami-Dade Schools Regional Chess Tournament at South Dade High School on Mar. 31, students of the Centennial Middle School Chess Club took first place and will go on to represent Centennial, Town of Cutler Bay, and the South Region at the District Chess Tournament in May.

Centennial teacher and chess coach Robert D. Glickman discussed the club’s accomplishment.

“Once they play in the regionals, the top five schools get invited to go to the district tournament at Southwest Miami High School,” Glickman said. “Out of our eight kids we had two who got individual second place and fourth place honors, so overall we did okay. Competition is still tough. I had a young team, three sixth graders, three seventh graders and two eighth graders.”

Glickman, who was born and raised in Long Island and has been in the South Florida area since the summer of 1969, said that the next level won’t be easy either, and that the team will be smaller.

“In the districts you can only bring five kids per team, whereas in the regionals you can bring eight kids per team,” Glickman said. “You have to sit and play whoever you’re scheduled to play. You play five games in the whole day. Then they look at all the scores of the teams and individuals.”

The eight members of the Centennial Chess Club who won the regional tournament are sixth graders Justyn Hunt, Alex Richardson and Tristan Lumarque; seventh graders Raheem Frederick, Tyler Moore and Nicolas Brown, and eighth graders Donovan Grace and Jeffrey Espinoza.

Coach Glickman praised the benefits of the game for students.

“Some people think that if you play chess you’re a nerd, but chess gives you deep thinking skills,” Glickman said. “It helps you perform better on the FCAT, which is a comprehensive test they take now, and it helps you go to these deeper levels cognitively-wise.

“It helps them focus, and everything right now is about focusing. In middle school years they go through a lot of changes. Chess gives them some stability and discipline.”

Christa Peremenis Lumarque, mother of one of the young chess champions, said in an open letter to Miami-Dade School Board vice chair Lawrence S. Feldman and Cutler Bay public officials that she wanted everyone to know how much she appreciated the dedication and support of Glickman, Centennial’s Math Department chair Mrs. Burns and school principal Yamila Carballo.

“With Mr. Glickman’s months of preparation, practice and strategy, and unwavering encouragement and optimism throughout the day, and a surprise visit from Mrs. Burns who came and gave a big pep talk and strategy session midway through the day, two of our eight also placed individually,” Mrs. Lumarque said. “Principal Carballo as well, because it is her infinite support of this and all of the Centennial programs that make our school such a treasure.”

The exchange of messages led to a goodnatured challenge from Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, himself a chess player, involving Feldman, Glickman and the chess team. Coach Glickman said that could be fun.

“After the FCAT tests we’ll stage a chess match with the mayor and students, sometime in May,” Glickman said. “We’re very proud of our kids. They aren’t texting; they’re not having fights; they’re doing something that’s a lifetime skill. My saying is, ‘I’ll teach you to play chess in two minutes and you can play it for a lifetime.’”

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