OCEAN CITY — Joey Calabrese smiles when asked about the time he bested his sensei in a recent chess match.
“She needed a little help,” he said of Randi Scheck, a member of the Rotary Club of Ocean City-Upper Township who recently helped launch a mental martial arts class for children in grades 3-8.
Naturally, Calabrese challenged Scheck to a rematch on Monday night in the children’s playroom of the Ocean City Library.
Calabrese was one of 10 students taking part in a friendly game of chess at the April 25 class, part of twice-weekly sessions sponsored by the Rotary Club that started in late March and last until March 24.
The class runs Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:30-8 p.m. in the library.
Scheck holds the classes with Ron Pennington, president of Still Waters Stress Center on Eighth Street and Wesley Avenue.
Speaking before the class got underway Monday night, Scheck described Pennington as a master chessman whom she met when she entered his shop to buy a gift certificate.
Pennington and Scheck, who was put in charge of the club’s children’s program for this year, got talking.
“We were talking about Rotary and life and people and the whole kit and caboodle,” said Scheck, who works as a hairdresser at Village Barber Shop. “He said to me ‘My dream was to teach children to play chess.’”
Pennington told Scheck about a book titled “Samurai Chess,” which covers teaching chess through the seven principles of samurai.
The Rotary Club, part of an international organization, dedicates itself to make positive, lasting changes in the communities in which they serve.
“The principles of samurai means to give of one’s service. And Rotary is service above self,” Scheck said.
The pair formed the classes to teach children respect, kindness and the principles of samurai through an ancient game that requires a lot of thought, strategy and patience.
For example, Pennington said, the word “kill” was being used to describe the action of eliminating someone’s piece in a game.
Instead, he said, the kids have been taught to “exchange” pieces on the board.
“You’re exchanging pieces,” he said. “You’re not killing pieces.”
Part of the focus of the classes, Pennington said, is to teach the children the principles he was taught growing up in Ocean City in the 1960s.
“We’re using chess as this vehicle to teach what is right and what is wrong, and the consequences for what is right and what is wrong,” he said.
“It’s all about choices. If you teach choices on this board and you make them aware that you can develop your own criteria as a child of choices for what is right or wrong based on this ancient game, let’s have them make the mistakes here.”
Pennington started the session by having the children sit in a semicircle, close their eyes and take part in a calming breathing exercise for five minutes.
The children then partnered up and began playing chess. They’re learning new moves now, they say, including the fork and the pin.
Ultimately, Scheck’s vision is to take the classes into Atlantic City.
“Bringing it to a place like Atlantic City is just going to enhance the community,” Scheck said.
She pointed to Atlantic City’s poverty rate, which has jumped from 23 percent to 37 percent since the economic recession of 2008, according to a December 2016 NJ.com report.
“With that comes a lot of negative issues,” she said of the rate. “We want to get in there and be a positive force.”