FERRYSBURG — Mario Arnson came to the West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics chess club four years ago without knowing the first thing about the game.
Now in seventh grade, he’s one of the top players in the club — but that’s not what keeps him coming back.
“I have more friends because of chess club,” Arnson said, “and I could never ask them to be my friends before.”
On Wednesday afternoons, many of the fifth- through eighth-grade students set up chess boards and start playing without any prompting.
WMAAA history teacher Adam Horos said the roughly 10 regular chess club members gain confidence, both socially and academically.
“It really helps kids understand they can do well in high school if they can understand a complicated game like chess,” he said.
Chess also helps students concentrate, because during the club they sit still and think hard for two or three games at a time.
Hobie Hagen, now a Grand Haven High School freshman, had a tough time concentrating before starting activities that could really challenge him mentally — according to his mother, Tracy Hagen.
“They were surprised he had attention deficit disorder when he came here (to WMAAA),” she said.
The WMAAA chess club was started four years ago by an experienced local player who has played in national tournaments. Volunteers such as Muskegon High School freshman Bennario Chapman still challenge and coach the WMAAA students.
“The kids are just drawn to Bennario,” Horos said. “They see him and know that when you go to high school chess can still be cool.”
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