SCOTTSDALE — If you step on Notre Dame Preparatory’s campus every Tuesday and Thursday, you might see a few bishops roaming about. Kings and queens too.
That’s because the school’s 7-year-old chess team is growing in size and strength. It began with two players, one of whom went on to play for the Arizona Scorpions, an online interstate team.
The Saints quickly averaged seven players, but doubled this year. They joined with personal and competitive interests. Roughly half had ever played before and even more had never competed.
“Many kids first start because they want to get better and beat a parent or godparent,” said Rich DesMarais, one of the coaches. “Once they get going and taste some success at tournaments, they really begin to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment and start asking more for us to review their games and to understand concepts.”
He coaches alongside Deacon Carmene Carbone, who once coached chess at Bourgade Catholic High School. The deacon credits pop culture for reigniting interest in chess. The opportunity to earn a varsity letter attracts some too.
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DesMarais said the players find that their screen time with the computer or tablet is greater when their parents see they’re playing chess.
“Most of the best players practice this way and get to the point that they are Masters at a much younger age than when I was a kid,” DesMarais said.
His son, Nick, is fast approaching that designation. The Notre Dame senior is near the upper end of the “Expert” rating by the U.S. Chess Federation. Nick went undefeated, beating out 63 players at the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s individual state chess championship in Yuma Nov. 22. He has placed in AIA’s top 10 all four years at Notre Dame.
Other Saints fared well during the individual tournament. Four placed in the top 20 heading into the final game.
Notre Dame, whose motto is, “Our bishops are moved by Saints,” finished 11th in the team tournament. That’s up two notches from its rookie year.
“Our primary strength was depth of team. Also, there is a high level of dependence on each other as a team, which is unusual in this game that is typically one on one,” DeMarais said.
Players are fielded five at a time with the highest-ranked on each team playing each other and on down the line. DeMarais said Adam Katafiasz, a senior on second board, played strong and Jesse Nguyen, a sophomore on fifth board, won all five of his games.
The Saints emerged well in the alternate competition too with sophomore Etienne Ruiz finishing in fourth place.