Nadia Bantalab says that if she wasn’t playing chess on Tuesday evenings at McClintock Middle School, she would probably be at home watching TV.

Nadia adds that her mother views the program with a greater sense of urgency.

“My mom says the more activities I have … the less I could be getting in trouble,” said Nadia.

Through a partnership with nearby Christ Lutheran Church on Providence Road, McClintock’s chess club is part of the school’s Family Night, which makes staying after school a good thing.

Between students, siblings and parents, hundreds of people participate in the weekly program.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association operates McClintock’s chess club – as it does at numerous schools countywide.

The difference for Nadia and the other participants is that Christ Lutheran also provides the chance to receive a free meal and a ride home in one of its vans as part of the Family Night festivities.

“It’s trying to plug students in with something that will click, finding an interest,” says Diane Glover, a McClintock guidance counselor. “It they haven’t had a chance to play chess, we like to pull them in and get them engaged. Then they learn to love it. And if it’s something they excel in, they like coming back.”

According to McClintock Partners in Education vice president Linda Cagley, Christ Lutheran started hosting Family Nights in the spring of 2007, when CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman encouraged faith-based institutions to support their community schools.

Cagley said Christ Lutheran had already conducted a summer program at McClintock but expanded its reach to develop the once-a-week after-school program.

More than 100 Christ Lutheran volunteers lead Family Night activities, including providing free meals to more than 325 people every week.

Educational and recreational programs are offered to parents and students of all ages.

Among those available to McClintock students are a robotics club, Girl Scouts and a boxing club, which is conducted through Mecklenburg Park and Recreation’s Charlotte Boxing Academy.

The chess club was added as one of the offerings in fall 2009. McClintock is now one of six middle schools, and 49 schools total, at which the chess association offers programs.

Susan Flynn, former association president, said participation in the 2009-10 school year fluctuated between 3 and 20 students per session. This year, the number has been a more consistent 8-10 per session.

Lead instructor Jon Munnell works for the association and normally receives payment for his services. But he volunteers three out of four weeks at McClintock because of an association budget crunch.

He is helped by student volunteers J.P. Flynn and Josh Mu, both Myers Park High students, and Jay M. Robinson Middle student Steve Wang.

Munnell says he tries to make each week “as fun as possible” outside the usual lessons and Q A sessions. At a recent meeting, the group celebrated sixth-grader Christian Thomas for being the first to solve a chess puzzle Munnell placed on the classroom whiteboard.

“It’s black … checkmate in two moves,” Christian explained. “Chess is very educational, but it’s also very competitive.”

Adult leaders feel the club provides a chance for McClintock students who normally wouldn’t be exposed to chess.

As a middle-school-age female, seventh-grader Nadia is part of a small demographic in chess clubs throughout CMS, said Flynn.

She also observed that Nadia was a rather resistant participant when the program started its fall session. Now she’s a proud member of the club.

“I’ve learned new moves,” Nadia said. “and how to checkmate in different ways. I have improved very much.”

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Contact him at