PORTSMOUTH â€” “Checkmate! He’s got checkmate!”
Cole Brahms, 9, stood across from his opponent, grinning with his arms crossed. His classmates were almost bursting with excitement that Brahms had beaten John Hebert, a Rotarian who was teaching the children about the game.
The Little Harbour fourth-graders sat in a circle with the large scale chess set as the focal point. Hebert’s king was surrounded by Brahms’ rook, bishop and queen â€” with no sign of escape.
“You won,” Hebert said in defeat and extended a handshake to Brahms.
For the last four years, Ted Alex has raised money and donated chess sets to Portsmouth area schools in the memory of Jeremy Alex, his 28-year-old son who disappeared in the Maine wilderness in 2004. With the help of the Portsmouth Rotary, he has established the Portsmouth Rotary Club’s Jeremy Alex Fund in Jeremy’s memory to help at-risk children and teens by giving them chess sets.
“We’re hoping this will help kids find the right road,” Hebert said. “One of the things we found was chess is a good way to do that.”
The game can teach children there are consequences for good and bad decisions, he said.
Each year, Dondero, New Franklin, Little Harbour and St. Patrick fourth-graders receive a chess set and are encouraged to join their school’s chess club. At Little Harbour, about 40 students get together each Thursday to test their skills.
Fifth-grader Parker Rice is one of the school’s chess club members and said he plays because he likes the competitive nature of the game.
When asked about the game they watched between Hebert and Brahms, classmate Nathan Edwards said he was sure if the instructor hadn’t explained each of his moves to the students, Brahms would have had a tougher game.
“I think the game was great, and I really want to join chess club,” he said.
With introductory books and small magnetic chess sets in their hands, students laughed and chatted about the game on their way back to class.
“I really like chess,” said fifth-grader Mohammad Alhamdan. “I love to play chess with my little brother. It’s a really fun game.”