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Detroit elementary school chess team takes home state championship

Students at Chrysler Elementary School win state championship.

DETROIT – The chess team at Walter Chrysler Elementary School in Detroit took home the state championship.

A large banner signalling the championship is hanging in front of the elementary school for the second year in a row. The chess team won the state championship for the K-5 division.

“I can’t even explain how happy I am for them,” chess coach Dereke Wilder said. “It’s phenomenal to see what these kids have accomplished these last two years.”

Inside the school, there are nearly 40 trophies won by the school’s chess team over the years, which was enough inspiration to get Mekhi Howald, to sign up for the team.

“Because I like winning trophies,” Mekhi said.

The team practices three days a week at school, plays at the Detroit Institute of Art once a week with the Detroit City Chess Club and participates in the local, state and regional competitions.

“Sometimes I’m nervous, but sometimes I’m happy because I’m about to play chess,” Foxx Williams said.

Wilder said his biggest challenge is undoubtedly the players’ attention spans.

“They can only play chess for so long, then they want to run, jump, you know, just do kid things,” Wilder said. “So it’s bringing back that attention to get them to concentrate and focus.”

But once they’re focused, Wilder said the children are pretty remarkable. They pick up on tricks that he teaches them and they quickly become attached to it.

“I tell my kids when you lose a game they feel like a kid outsmarted them, so you think that, you know, you strategize,” Wilder said. “I say being slick -- that’s what makes them continue to play and love the game.”

The chess champions are getting slicker every day, not just in the game of chess, but it’s also translating into other subject areas.

“Chess is big because it helps students to focus, helps students to think critically,” said Kevin Fite, the assistant STEM director for the Detroit Public Schools Community District. “They start developing these thinking patterns. They start analyzing and, you know, going into deep patterns, not only in chess, but outside in life.”


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