Chess is the smart move in Sparta


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  • The game of kings




  • The Helen Morgan School chess team, winner of the NJ Public School Elementary Championship




  • Akshat Iyerat the board




By Laurie Gordon

SPARTA — When he was in the second grade, Ian Bellush's friend, Griffin Brawer, was on the Sparta Chess Team and asked if he wanted to join. Now a fifth grader Bellush said he has learned the game and even traveled as far away as Orlando, Florida, for his firs National's Tournament. Teammates have become good friends and they get together outside of playing chess.

“In the 15 years that I have run the program, I can tell you I coach the best kids in the world,” said Coach Thomas Murray. “The idea has always been to have fun. We have traveled to 16 states, and we take the kids to important cultural and historic places. We have eaten ceviche in La Jolla California, visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas, gone to a baseball game in Pittsburgh and visited the Andy Warhol Museum, and they have their own Louisville Sluggers.”

Murray added, “The Sparta Chess Team reaffirmed its best public school chess program in New Jersey reputation by winning the NJ Middle School Tournament for the second consecutive year.”

Lucas Rendina, Akshat Iyer and Timothy Lee all received individual awards for their efforts, and the SMS team nipped perennial rival Christian Brothers Academy. Brian Smith, Cole Potter, and Tim Mulkerin rounded out the team. This was the team's fourth NJ Middle School Championship.

Not to be outdone, The Helen Morgan team won their second consecutive NJ Public School Elementary Championship. Vaiden Pollard led the team with 3.5 points. Ian Bellush, Chloe Brawer, and Jc Langeraap each had three wins. The rest of the team included Ayush Iyer, Griffin Brawer, Rowan Mendel, Kristopher and Kristina Carneiro, Leah Andrini, and Christian Posada.

The Sparta HS Team finished in first place in the North Jersey Chess League for the sixth consecutive season with a 3-2 win over arch rival Livingston on Wednesday March 8. The team avenged an earlier loss with sparkling efforts from Cameron Flores, and Chris Hakkenberg. The team will be playing in the Pennsylvania Scholastic Championship this weekend.

Murray said, “I am proud of all of them, but especially those with autism and ADD. Their achievements are huge. All of the kids are so much of a team, and enjoy each others company regardless of their ages.”

Sparta Chess Club is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and facilitating the art, science and sport of chess through coaching and competition for people of all ages, especially the students in the Sparta Public Schools.

The club was formed by Murray in 2002 to promote chess in Sparta -- especially to the student population. It has grown from the initial 15 members to over 150 current members. Murray is coaching chess in all the public schools in town. That's some undertaking, and the kids and parents are grateful for his time.

While the club promotes casual chess playing, tournament chess is the lifeblood of the club. The club is a Silver Affiliate with the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF). The USCF keeps rankings of all players and most tournament results are reported. You can look up a player's ranking at USCF ratings. Members ratings range from unrated to 1700+. Overall ratings for our members continue to improve.

In addition to training chess students and running tournaments, the club has run an open chess night in Sparta for the past several summers.

“We invite you to discover the game of chess,” Murray said. “Learn the game and improve your skills through casual play and team tournaments. Chess Club meetings run from September through April in Sparta schools. We have also provided fun summer activities. All levels of experience are welcome.”

Club members will receive emails regarding the details of upcoming events. If you would like more information, contact Murray at (973) 726-9405.





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