Last summer, eight members of the Berkeley Bishops Chess Team traveled to Straffen, Ireland, to compete with the top-rated European Junior Champion Chess Team.
This week the Berkeley Bishops are hosting nine children and five adults from Straffen, continuing the cultural exchange that began with a chess tournament last year.
Straffen is a small village of 850 people, situated 40 miles west of Dublin. Last year Straffen Elementary School won the title of Junior Champions of Europe.
The Berkeley Bishops spent a week with host families in the village. When the final tournament was played the Bishops won two out of three matches.
Organizer Elizabeth Shaughnessy was the Irish Women’s Chess Champion in 1970 and former head of the Berkeley Board of Education.
Shaughnessy said she was the first to start a school-based chess program on the West Coast in 1982 when she founded the Berkeley Chess School. Since then enrollment continues to climb, with 4,000 kids enrolled throughout the Bay Area in this year’s program.
“It is the largest program on the West Coast,” Shaughnessy said.
The children participating in the program generally range from third to sixth grade with a few exceptions.
“If a younger kid is particularly bright, we let them join,” Shaughnessy said.
How do kids benefit from such a program?
“It helps the kids to learn how to focus, to problem solve, how to make decisions, and understanding the consequences of those decisions,” said Lanette Chan-Gordon, executive director of the Berkeley Chess School.
Shaughnessy said, “The kids learn the responsibility of their own decisions.”
A part from chess, the Irish children are enjoying their trip.
Straffen student Niall Kiernan,11, was impressed by the Golden Gate Bridge.
“We don’t have anything like that in Ireland,” he said. “There are more lights here too.”
Donal Spring, 14, also of Straffen, agreed that not only were there more lights, but there is “more sun too.”
The weather in Ireland made a big impression on Mahnoosh Moghadam, 9, of Berkeley, who visited Straffen last year with the team.
“They have a lot of rainbows there. It’s always raining. I saw two rainbows at a time. Lots of horses too.”
The big rematch is on Monday.