Chess bug bites 10% of students at Pleasant Street School

LACONIA — The corridor that led to the classroom at Pleasant Street School Thursday afternoon was so quiet a passerby would never had known there were 32 children between the ages of 7 and 10 packed into it. About the only clue was the multi-colored backpacks lining both side of the hall that led to the room.

Inside, the youths were hunched over 16 different chess boards — on tables, desks and even some floor space toward the back of the room.

At one table, Finnian Mousseau was deep in thought and staring intently at his board. After putting the final move on his opponent he shook her hand and went to Laconia School District Business Administrator Ed Emond looking for another opponent.

"This is my first year," said the third-grader who comes from a long line of Pleasant Street School chess champions.

He said he had won a couple of matches so far that day and was looking forward to getting another opponent.

"My brother taught me a few tricks," he said, noting with pride that his brother is the only Pleasant Street student to beat Emond — reputed to be a very good chess player.

At another table, fifth-grader Zoe Reed and fourth-grader Jonathan Duprey played to a stalemate. Zoe said she started in the Chess Club when she was 8 years old and often plays with her parents.

"I can beat my Mom, but I can't beat my Dad," she said.

Duprey said he started playing chess last year and he likes to keep practicing so he can get better. After Duprey explained the difference between a stalemate and checkmate, they both went to teacher Ernie Bownes for further directions.

For Emond, helping Bownes teach and supervise the elementary students is one of the favorite parts of his week. Normally, as the financial manager, Emond spends his days (and many evenings) crunching numbers and managing financial snafus.

On chess day, he gets to play one of his favorite pastimes as well as teaching it to a new group of young people who he hopes will grow to love the game as much as he does.

This year 10 percent of the student body at Pleasant Street School is participating in Chess Club, said Superintendent Terri Forsten. "That's an amazing number," she told the School Board at its meeting Tuesday.

While all five city schools and Holy Trinity School have clubs as well, Pleasant Street School has always worn their chess acumen as a badge of honor.

On Wednesday, the team was having its playoffs to see which four students would represent the school at the city-wide chess tournament March 29 at the Meredith Village Savings Bank Culinary Arts Center at the Huot Technical School.

"This is a very quick hour for me," said Bownes, a special education teacher at Pleasant Street School.

He said second-graders can play but only third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders can play in the tournament.

"Chess teaches sportsmanship and problem solving," he said. "It's not about winning or losing, it's about playing well."

"We win with dignity and we lose with dignity," he said.