Checkmate: Chess at Wantagh High School

Cole Belling

In Wantagh High School, you don’t have to look far to see a chess board. Mr. Verini carries around his chromebook open on, battles unfold on the chess mats in the back of Mr. Colavita’s room, and others can be seen carrying chess boards around the school, finding new ways to keep the game going. Students and teachers alike teach each other chess strategies, back and forth across intense mental battles. What is so special about Chess for Wantagh High School? Why is it so popular? 

Physics teacher Mr. Colavita appreciates the game for its emphasis on logic, reason, and strategy. Mr. Colavita said, “I like how this game is 100% strategic and there’s no luck involved.” 

Mr. Colavita always provides students and teachers with a place to play chess: the table in the back of his room. During study halls, free periods, or after school it’s likely that students will see two competitors battling it out on one of the chess mats in the back of his room. He said, “I think people saw us playing and they wanted to join in.” These chess boards have provided many students with a convenient entryway to chess. 

For many, the apparent surge in popularity is the result of The Queen’s Gambit, a 2020 Netflix exclusive miniseries. Teacher Mr. Verini said,“I’m one of The Queen’s Gambit Generation.” For Mr. Verini, chess is a universal language. 

He said,“When I play online, I’ve played against people in the Middle East and in Asia and in Europe. You don’t have to speak the same language to be able to play. It goes across age, it goes across gender, and all other boundaries. Everyone can get involved in the game and appreciate it for all of its beauty.” 

Chris Morale, president of the Chess Club, appreciates the complex camaraderie that accompanies Chess. He said, “There’s something amazingly nonverbal about it...even if you lose, which I often do, you get to kind of get inside their mind a little bit. 

Chris also hopes to create a schoolwide chess tournament with advisor Mr. Labiento. Regarding a tournament, Chris said, “It wouldn’t just be Chess Club people. Anyone in the school who wanted to join [can]. We would be happy to have you.”

Some students, like sophomore Emily Korotki, have found inventive ways to play chess. Emily plays on a magnetic chess board that allows her to carry the game with her around the school and between periods.  Emily said,“It’s genuinely very fun to play.” She says chess has a special “sophistication” to it that makes her appreciate it. 

Other students, like senior Seth Braum, have relentlessly battled the school’s best chess players to perfect their game. Seth spends much of his free time tinkering with strategies in the back of Mr. Colavita’s room and often against Mr. Colavita. 

He said, “I’ve definitely learned a lot from playing with Mr. Colavita: that I have to be very decisive.”  Seth values the unspoken intensity of chess matches. He said “It’s chess. You’ll never truly understand it until you play it. There’s this quiet anticipation. Every chess game is different, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Everyone has their own reasons for playing chess. It’s a unique game with so many draws and so much complexity. It becomes so easy to be completely absorbed by any of the game’s many facets. 

This leaves only one question: Who is the best chess player in Wantagh High School? The answer is almost unanimously Mr. Colavita. However, he has been beaten before. You can challenge yourself, form special bonds, and stimulate your mind by playing chess. Who knows: one day you could dethrone Mr. Colavita as WHS’ chess grandmaster.