By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
Senior members of the Christian Brothers Academy chess team battled to their second win in three years during the U.S. Chess Federation’s 2017 National 12th Grade Championships, held Dec. 8 - 10 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Lincroft high school defeated powerhouse Stuyvesant High School, New York City, for the trophy.
CBA mathematics teacher and coach Patrick Melosh assembled a winning contingent of senior Daniel Draganoff, John-Gabriel Bermudez, Michael Gilbride, Matt Notaro, Brendan Fitzgerald, Kenny Skelton and Marc Sorrentino in the competition to take home the victory. In addition to the team win, Draganoff finished fourth overall as an individual.
The team’s 26 members, ranging in grade from freshman to senior, have been coached by mathematics teacher Melosh for the past 19 years. Melosh’s tenure with the team began during his own sophomore year at CBA in 1972.
The coach noted that many of his players had begun their acquaintance with the game upon arriving at CBA rather than in their youth as in the case of many of their competitors.
“I love to see how the freshmen grow as human beings and how they become fine young men,” Melosh said. “They must sit, focus and concentrate for long periods of time, and compete against others who may have started chess when they were five years old.”
Life lessons are more important than simple skills at the board, Melosh stressed.
“The boys learn how to win and lose gracefully. This is an individual game, and you realize there is nobody else to blame if you lose,” he said.
CBA assistant chess coach, Brian Meinders, also has had a longtime connection to the Lincroft school’s team, some of it from the other side of the chessboard.
“I began playing chess as a freshman in Lakewood High School and competed against CBA,” Meinders said. “[Melosh] approached me nine years ago to help with the team and I agreed.”
Meinders, who has been accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Trenton and is slated to begin studies for the priesthood next year, expressed his pride in the CBA underclassmen both as competitors and Catholics. The future seminarian noted the lessons learned at the chessboard will extend into the rest of the boys’ education and faith lives.
“Chess is a lot like life,” Meinders declared. “Through chess, kids learn planning and thinking ahead, appreciating the consequences of what they do and don’t do, humility, decision making under pressure and how to bounce back after an error.
“These skills have a broad application in the rest of their lives,” he continued. “These are all characteristics they would learn in a Catholic education, and they learn them in all their classes. This learning condition is conducive to the development of virtue.”
CBA chess competitors are indeed absorbing these valuable traits.
Chess team member, CBA senior John-Gabriel Bermudez, began his love affair with the game of kings as a member of his grade school’s checkers and chess club. He credits timing with his success both on the chessboard and in life.
“A crucial part of playing a chess game is timing: a shortage of time on your chess clock can suddenly put a couple hundred points on your opponent's rating,” Bermudez said. “Aside from learning focus and time management, I've found that chess also works better when you think your moves out. Chess has taught me personally how to think out my decisions and set myself up well for the future.”
Fellow team member Draganoff called his national ranking “gratifying” and said the game required strategic concepts which captivated his interest.
“A major part of the game is using and understanding logic, and, as one improves in chess, this skill of efficient deduction and calculation can carry over to problem solving. Also, the ability to recognize patterns is integral to chess and can be applied [to] building upon previous knowledge… I find that chess teaches many skills that school or activities never will,” Draganoff declared.