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At PS 5/The Ellen Lurie School, located in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, the "Juggernauts" take their chess seriously.  Wanda Soto, the principal, works tirelessly to insure that the program is nurtured with the time and attention it deserves.  "These kinds of enrichment programs are exactly what our schools needs to reach the next level of achievement," she comments," They boost moral and self-confidence plus the children have a positive activity to participate in after school hours and on the weekends."  The stalwart educator turns toward the group of 12 students, 6 parent chaperones, and two teacher-volunteers who are gathered before her.  After months of fundraising, organizing, instruction, and practice, the PS 5 Chess Team is ready for their greatest challenge; The Elementary School Nationals in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The students are packed and ready as they sit by the front doors of the school; each one pondering the great adventure that they shall embark upon together.  Ms Soto addresses the team, "I would like you all to remember how proud we are of your hard work, but we also want you to keep in mind that you are representing PS 5 and your community.  We have every faith that you will return victorious; good luck and be safe." 

            The trip alone will take 10 hours, but teachers, John Simonian and Wan-Xin Feng, use the time on the train to provide last minute instruction, training, and practice.  Once they arrive in Pittsburgh it's straight to bed.  Over the next three days the focus will be on chess, chess, and more chess.

            After an early morning start the team eats their breakfast at a local restaurant then heads over to the David H. Lawrence Convention Center where they meet their instructor, Derek Kleinbaum, from Chess-in-the-Schools.   Chess-in-the-Schools is a privately funded organization that provides complete chess  programs, at no charge to public schools, throughout New York City.   Chess-in-the-Schools has prepared a meeting room for them where they will review the student's games with master and grandmaster level chess instructors.  As the Juggernauts go over their strategy for the first round the students are receptive but nervous.  Over 2,000 students will be vying for the top prizes in each section.  The students know that they must play cautiously and slowly; each round can last up to four hours.  Many of these students are also eager to distinguish themselves from amongst a vast field of able competitors from every corner of the United States.  They know they must play the best chess of their lives.  The time for the first round has arrived.  The Juggernauts form a circle and perform their cheer.  As the last student leaves the room the parents and teachers breathe a sigh of relief.  It is their first opportunity to relax in over 24 hours.  Knowing they have done their part, they chat amongst themselves as they wait for each student to return after completing their first game.

            On the third day of chess, after the last round has been completed, the teachers and coaches know that the team has accomplished several notable achievements:  As a rookie team at the tournament they have managed to place a K-5 Under 900 (Chess Rating Points) team in 30th place among 63 teams in the section.  As the team mounts the stage to receive their trophy the students beam with pride and joy all knowing that they played their very best.  Up on the stage, with flashes from cameras coming from every direction, the students hold their trophy high for all to admire; they all know that they have achieved their best potential.  They know that every game that they played was scrutinized and reviewed.

            Next up on the stage are the K-3 Unrated players.  They mount the stage with the same exuberance as their older counterparts.  They shake hands with the tournament director who presents them with a 15th place trophy.   Again, the flashes from cameras greet them as they show their trophy to the cheering crowd on the convention floor below.  Mothers and fathers, filled with pride, greet their children with hugs and kisses as they join in the celebration.  The students look at one another and every one, from the 2nd graders to the 5th graders know that they are a team.  They know what it means to work together. They know that every game they won, they won together and that every game that they lost, they lost together.

            After a well-deserved celebratory dinner at a local Spaghetti Warehouse the students return to their hotel rooms for one more night before the long trip back on the train.

            Upon their weary, though joyous, return to PS 5 and their own neighborhood, they are greeted by their parents and their principal, Wanda Soto.  All of whom staunchly supported the team and share in their accomplishment.  Ms. Soto listens to their stories of trial and victory and she knows that one day her students may stand among the best in the nation again.  She looks at the trophies they have brought back to the school and comments, "You make us all proud with your efforts, and you have all made PS 5 a better school for all of its students."  Next year…Nashville Tennessee!


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