Chess champs at Central Catholic – ‘Chess makes better students’ says principal

By Tim Hatch
STC Correspondent
From August 3, 2006 Edition

Two Central Catholic Elementary School students came out winners after using their best strategies in an international chess competition this summer.

Third-grader Georgia Olvera, 8, and fifth-grader Kelliinez Lopez, 11, took home trophies from the Susan Polgar World Open Chess Championship for Girls in Las Vegas June 17 and 18.

Georgia, who is returning to Central Catholic as a fourth grader, won the under-10 age division in the blitz competition. Kelliinez, who is starting sixth grade at Bishop Garriga Middle Preparatory School, took seventh place in the under-13 age division of regular play.

“It was a good experience for the girls to play against people they’ve never faced before,” Raquel Lopez, Kelliinez’s mother, said, adding that Kelliinez remained confident in her playing abilities throughout the whole competition.

“She’s been playing for a year now and enjoys it. It’s become a pastime for her,” she said.
Both girls were national winners in January at the Susan Polgar National Open Championship.

Georgia was the local third-grade and regional primary champion for the Susan Polgar South Texas Chess Center, a non-profit organization that promotes chess in south Texas public and private schools by offering chess lessons at the schools.

The center has been in existence for just over a year and is named after Susan Polgar, a world champion chess grandmaster from Hungary.

“Susan Polgar says that Georgia can see several plays ahead while you’re still working on making one move,” Sister Anne Brigid Schlegel, an Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament sister and principal of Central Catholic Elementary School, said.

“Chess makes better students,” the Central Catholic principal added. In September, Sister Anne hopes to compare achievement test scores of those who play chess with those who do not play with the expectation of higher scores from those who participate in the game.

According to Dan DeLeon, director of the center and the girls’ coach, studies have shown that chess is one of only four activities in the world that stimulates and utilizes both sides of the brain. He said that chess helps build critical thinking and problem-solving skills and concentration.

Forty-five students at Central Catholic Elementary played chess through the center during the last school year. Most of the Central Catholic team has competed against other schools in South Texas, including schools in Robstown, Kingsville and Brownsville.

In the 2005-2006 school year, Central Catholic Elementary took home 15 to 20 team trophies at these competitions.

The parents of the chess players play an integral part of the team. They take them to the competitions and are there for support.

“The parents are unbelievable,” Sister Anne said. “They’ve taken initiative and have become a very cohesive group that works well together.”

Cris DeLeon of the Susan Polgar South Texas Chess Center gives chess lessons to each class at Central Catholic Elementary for an hour a week. This gives each student the opportunity to learn the game. They can then choose to join the team.

“Chess is an option for students, but everyone’s encouraged to play,” Sister Anne said.

Even kindergarten students have shown interest in the game. Jared Hallmark, a K-4 student at Central Catholic Elementary last year, played so well that he was placed in the K-5 bracket and won first place in the Coastal Bend.

“I hope these achievements give us a reputation as a good chess school,” Sister Anne said.

Georgia was scheduled to meet with Polgar during the summer in New York so that Polgar could evaluate her strategies and techniques.

Lopez said her daughter would be an asset to her new team at Bishop Garriga Middle School, the school that won the team trophy for the middle school bracket at a competition at Central Catholic Elementary this past June.

“She’s looking forward to playing at Bishop Garriga,” Lopez said. “Although she doesn’t know the people in the chess club, she’s ready to meet new friends and play with them.”
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