Rebuilding a Chess Dynasty at Ridgeway

Ridgeway Elementary School was a chess powerhouse for two decades, so when a former student enrolled his own son in the school, it came as a surprise that there was no longer a strong chess culture. Changes in administration and other program offerings saw chess become one of many programs for students, instead of the flagship it had been when Will Trepp was a student in the 1990s.

“The school produced many strong teams starting when my older brother Richard attended,” Will said. In 1984, the first year Ridgeway was organized as a competitive team, Richard, along with Julie and Matt Goldman, Justin and Marcel Collazo, and Amy Berezin, placed 4th in the K-3 section at the USCF National Elementary School Championship. The following year, Matt Goldman became National Primary Co-champion. And in 1988, during Middle School, Richard won the K-8 Championship while also leading his school to victory in the team competition.

“Here was this little public school in White Plains that was right up with the chess powerhouse schools in New York City and across the country,” Will said. “Then came my era.”

Will began studying chess at the age of 4 1/2. Richard was already taking lessons at Ridgeway and began private lessons with FIDE Master Sunil Weeramantry. “I wanted to learn too, but my parents said I was too young. They did allow me to color at the table where Sunil was teaching Richard and I listened to the lessons. When I was able to show them that I already knew how to play just from listening in, they let me begin lessons too.”

Will remembers playing chess against his kindergarten teacher, even though the NSCF chess program didn’t begin until 1st grade. “There was an enrichment program in the school day, and then a lunch time chess club, so we were getting a lot of chess at a very early age.”

William tied for 2nd at Elementary Nationals in May of 1991 and went on to win the 7th grade Championship in the K-12 Grade Nationals held in Gilbert, Arizona in 1992.

“Right behind me was Asuka Nakamura, who went on to become one of the most successful scholastic chess players of all time.” Asuka won a record-breaking 13 national titles during his school years. “And after Asuka, his brother Hikaru Nakamura led the Ridgeway team. Of course, he has become a grandmaster and one of the top players in the world.”

Will stopped playing in his teens, went on to college and career. He returned to White Plains when he and his wife Liz were ready to have a family. Proud parents of two boys, Leo, 6, and Felix, 3. Leo is now attending Ridgeway Elementary. When, already mid-year, the PTA asked for a new parent coordinator for chess, Will jumped back in.

“There is a lot of intrinsic interest,” he discovered, “But chess is something that requires something of a pied piper to expound on the virtues of the game. When I share with other parents and their children that I played during my school years, and some of our experiences as a team, the response is positive.” Will was able to grow participation in the after-school chess program by around 20 students by the start of the winter session. He even formed a team to take to a NSCF tournament.

Parents asked if the children were ready. “I told the kids that I didn’t care if we lost every game, we were still going for pizza and ice cream afterwards, and we would all have fun.” Well they did not lose every game; in fact, 3rd grader Christian Bautista took first place honors in the 2-3 Novice section. His performance also helped Ridgeway earn a 2nd place team trophy.

“They were all excited to play in their next tournament when COVID-19 shut everything down,” Will said. “It was trial-by-fire for all teachers to move their classes online, but the NSCF was able to navigate alongside them to offer chess using zoom. As a parent, the last thing I wanted was another online class to manage with my child, but we were able to offer students the chance to continue to the end of the semester. I think it was pretty cool that over 50% of the winter students chose to take the online classes.”

So, will Leo Trepp pick up dad’s baton to lead a new generation of Ridgeway chess champs? Will thinks it’s too early to tell, but that isn’t his goal regardless. “It’s more about the lessons that chess can teach a child about evaluating conditions and making decisions. In my professional life, I believe I have an advantage. So many times, I have been able to draw on my knowledge from the chess board to make better business decisions. That’s the skill I want these students to develop.”

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Richard Trepp went to Yale to study computer science before becoming a medical doctor. After 15 years as an ER physician, Dr. Trepp is currently Assistant Chief Quality Officer/Informatics at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and lives in White Plains where his sons attend Ridgeway Elementary School. Will Trepp studied computer sciences at Dartmouth and is COO of Rockport and TreppPort, two commercial real estate data and analytics companies in Manhattan. In his “spare” time he is the PTA coordinator for the chess program at Ridgeway Elementary.

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