When Bryan Nella’s wife returned from a Post Road Elementary School PTA meeting to report there was no parent coordinator for the chess program last year, she was effectively conscripting her husband into service. He had his own school chess experience while growing up and here was the opportunity to help another generation.
The NSCF has delivered chess instruction at Post Road in White Plains for over 20 years. In the 2016-17 school year, over 80 students meet for lunch-time classes with a separate class for each grade. The students eat their lunches while instructors deliver a short lesson, typically 20 or 25 minutes, and then have the rest of the hour to play.
One of the benefits of being the chess club coordinator is getting to see his own children play. Mr. Nella has two students at the school, 10-year-old Matthew and 6-year-old Alex were both taught to play by their father. The older boy has ADHD so he has trouble focusing for many academic tasks, but “he can sit and concentrate for 45 minutes or longer when he is playing chess,” Mr. Nella said.
Mr. Nella’s job allows him to work from home two days a week so he is able to attend the classes when other parents are unavailable to supervise the program. While there are several great NSCF instructors involved, Mr. Nella made particular mention of Mike McDermott who he says takes extra time to keep the students motivated. “He’ll showcase games from current players and talk to the kids about how these grandmasters got their start. Then use these stories to illustrate that the kids in the class have the same shot.”
Mr. Nella’s chess experience goes back to his own days in elementary school. He was part of the 1985-86 chess team at William E. Cottle School in Eastchester.
A small group that met in the mornings with Sunil Weeramantry as their coach, the Cottle team took 3rd place in the Championship section at USCF Nationals. The team was led by Marc Berman who, some years later, went on to become a National Master and to place 2nd in the 11th grade competition at the 1991 K-12 Grade Nationals. “I wasn’t a particularly good player,” Mr. Nella said, “but having someone like Marc on the team was a big motivator.”
Having a peer role model helped drive the enthusiasm for the other kids. “He (Marc) was already the best player but he really encouraged us and his enthusiasm carried us along. He got us into playing in the tournaments at Hunter. Of course, Sunil was the biggest factor. He worked with us every week.”
Now some 30 years later he says listening in on some of the classes for the Post Road students, he says he remembers learning many of the same concepts. “Things click a bit more for me now than they did back then.”
While most Post Road students pursue chess just for fun, a few will play in local tournaments and several are asking to organize a team. Mr. Nella says Matthew is planning to play in his very first tournament when the NSCF Grand Prix season comes to George Washington Elementary in February. While he shares that his own experience on a national championship chess team was an example that chess was a sport where the highest levels were “accessible to everyone,” his biggest motivator in continuing as the school’s chess coordinator is seeing a new generation receive the benefits of formal chess instruction. “They are learning to think things through.” That’s a skill that will last a lifetime.