Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stormont Kings Keeping Pace

Chris Stormont...Bringing It


Steve Violeta, 11, and Vic Song, 7, stare each other down. They contemplate their next move. Goal: To annihilate the other.
The two Pinecrest Elementary students aren't about to duke it out, however.
Instead, Steve, a fifth-grader, goes for the jugular -- on a chess board.
He checkmates Vic, a first-grader, during the school's chess club's third annual chess tournament earlier this month.
About 50 kids at the school, 10250 SW 57th Ave., meet each Thursday for an hour with instructor Chris Stormont to learn the game of kings.
Most people take Saturdays off or spend the day taking care of chores -- mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, washing the car.
Not Stormont.
He has spent every Saturday since 1991 teaching young people how to play chess at the Miami-Dade Kendall library branch.
Stormont, founder of the Stormont Kings Chess Club, has also taught at Temple Beth Am, Village Green Christian School and various Miami-Dade County parks.
He now has classes for chess clubs at Pinecrest and Sunset elementary schools and Kenwood K-8 Center.
In 17 years, he has helped thousands of children learn the difference between a pawn and a rook and how to move a bishop or a knight. He's taught them the touch rule -- you touch a piece, you play it.
But, many parents say, he has really taught the kids so much more:
To think ahead and pay attention.
To follow rules and win, or lose, with decorum.
And, amazingly in many cases, to sit still and quietly for up to hours at a time.
''Chris is a disciplinarian. He's a blessing,'' said Sue Courshon, whose grandson Ben Spiegelman, 7, has been playing for a year.
``They learn cooperation and they learn to use their brains.''
Daniel Mirones has noticed the difference in his son Peter, 7, a first-grader at the Pinecrest club.
''It certainly has improved his focus,'' Mirones said.
``It's helped him develop mental discipline.''
For Kyle Neufeld, 8, chess is the perfect activity because he is more of an introvert and not comfortable in team sports, said his mother, Kelli Neufeld.
''He's always afraid to fail the team. This is more one-on-one,'' said Neufeld, a teacher at Pinecrest who lets Stormont use her classroom for the club.
Stormont is proud of his kids.
He keeps three big blue scrapbooks of photos from the tournaments, with standings and scores.
''I want to remember all the kids and it's good to show them who won,'' he said.
He started playing as kid.
''My father taught me to play at the age of 9 and I have been playing ever since,'' Stormont said.
``My first opportunity to join a chess club was at South Miami Middle. The coach there told me that I had the potential of becoming a strong chess player and he invited me to play in a tournament between South Miami Middle and West Miami Middle.
``I tied for first place, which made me feel very proud.''
He started a chess club in high school and helped run a local chess club before he began his own 17 years ago.
Since then, Stormont, who also gives private lessons, has had thousands of students.
The hardest part is ''getting them to learn how and when to force a win,'' Stormont said.
''My biggest accomplishment is starting the chess club and having it thrive for so long. It has allowed me to positively influence many children through chess. It is very gratifying to see the children progress and gain confidence in the process,'' he added.
``I am especially proud of being able to help many children with disabilities through the game.''
Cathy Carrera said chess has taught her 10-year-old son Zachary, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, to keep trying.
''It stimulates a certain part of the brain. Our neurologist told us about it,'' Carrera said. ``One year, he played twice a week because it was doing him a lot of good.
''It helps his self-esteem. He's very good at it. It is something he can do well and help other kids with,'' Carrera said.
Others, like second-grader Justin Broce, have learned about winning.
Justin, who says his favorite move is ''castling,'' when more than one piece can be moved during a turn, won the tournament earlier this month at Pinecrest.
How did he do it?
''I'm not telling my secret,'' Justin said.

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