If there is one club that has overcome the challenges of online school while continuing to expand and build community, it would be the Sacred Heart Preparatory (SHP) Chess Club. Determined to revive the game virtually after last year’s club dissolved at the start of the pandemic, Armin Hamrah (SHP ‘23) and Aidan Bhatnagar (SHP ‘23) created a new Schoology group and quickly assembled an enormous group of students interested in starting or developing their chess journey. Since then, the club has grown to be one of the largest at Sacred Heart and continues to innovate new ways to compete and serve its 60-plus members.
The SHP Chess Club meets weekly and recognizes the diversity of experiences within its members. The leaders present a lesson in the main Zoom room while opening up breakout rooms where students can play against each other and regularly check back in. “If people want to listen to a workshop about opening principles or tactics, for example, they can stay in the main room. And if they just want to hang out, have a good time, and play chess with their friends, they can also do that in the breakout rooms,” explains Aidan. The leaders try to foster a flexible and relaxed environment where every student, regardless of their level, can feel comfortable playing.
In addition to these weekly meetings, Armin has organized tournaments within the club and with other schools through Lichess.org
, taking advantage of the online model to connect with chess clubs across the Bay. So far, SHP has played in individual tournaments against PALY, Los Altos, Nueva, Mountain View, and Carlmont. On top of that, Armin is working to expand the club to a robust league that will soon include East Coast and international schools. “Basically, what we’re doing is creating a Bay Area Chess League for high schoolers. The Friday before we left for [Winter] Break, we had a tournament with nine different schools and 80 people participated,” Armin says. His next goal is to reach out to the Phillips Exeter Academy’s chess club and connect with SHP exchange students virtually who are interested in the game in order to create a global community of chess enthusiasts.
Through their outreach and carefully constructed meetings, Armin and Aidan have elevated their members’ game and pushed the boundaries of what is possible for a virtual club. “I started really bad, and no one made fun of me because Chess Club is really supportive. I’ve gotten much better now,” says Nic Nikcevic (SHP ‘23). Other members affirm Nic’s sentiment, including Trent Melinauskas (SHP ‘23). “I could tell that Chess Club was a very supportive and close community from the start,” says Trent. The club was especially valuable for underclassmen who got to meet one another through an extracurricular activity. “Chess Club was a spectacular bonding experience and I look forward to it every week,” says William Serrano (SHP ‘23). All students are welcome to join and members have the opportunity to practice and connect with Gators from all grade levels as well as meet players from other schools.
“I think Chess Club’s resume speaks for itself, from amassing the most members of any club to organizing tournaments with other schools, they’re doing really impressive stuff,” says Carter Sun (SHP ‘21), who attends meetings on a regular basis. Members also had the chance to pick up a specially customized hoodie and compete for gift card prizes in a school tournament. They have also supported Armin as he publishes weekly chess poems to the Quad
student website, a creative way to promote the goals and content of the club. Their motto? #ChessClubforLife
As students slowly make the transition to in-person learning, Armin and Aidan will keep SHP’s Chess Club online due to its large membership, but they will continue fostering their outreach and expanding the limits of the club throughout the rest of the semester and into next year. Their ambition to create a global community and maintain a flexible atmosphere that serves all of their members will contribute to the growth of an organization that maximized its potential during the quarantine.