June 24, 2009 Press release - IN THE KITCHEN WITH: Tom Murray

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Sparta Independent > News
Published: June 24, 2009

Sparta Chess Club is his labor of love; With levels from kindergarten to high school, the Sparta chess clubs are thriving, By Rose Sgarlato

Tom Murray started playing chess in second grade. When he began beating his father at the game, Murray started competing with adults. His love and knowledge of the game has been the driving force behind the Sparta Chess Club.

“I played all through high school and college — I was at my peak when I graduated college. Basically, the more you practice, the better you get,” Murray said. “You learn by playing someone better than you.”

But after he entered the business world, Murray (who was a middle school science teacher for some years and then became a financial planner) lost the opportunity to play.

What he never anticipated was that he would be back in schools teaching — but this time the subject was chess.

“It all started about seven years ago when my nephew was at Mohawak Avenue School, and they had no one to run the chess club. So I starting coaching them. Then that group went onto the middle school who then went to high school,” Murray explains. “I started teaching in all of the schools. And for the last three years, I have done the grade schools.”

Chess Club is an official school activity. Murray tutors the students and represents the school when they compete with other New Jersey schools. Students can earn varsity letters for their achievements. But the position is entirely voluntary; he donates all of his time and energy.

“We have kindergartners who are playing. You just have to want to learn. Some kids are ready to play at different ages,” he said. There is now a total of 150 kids from all of the schools participating many of whom are at the elementary level.

As a result of this great interest in the game, the Sparta Chess Club evolved in 2002. It is a non-profit organization that promotes the sport of chess though coaching and competing. The club is open to every one of all ages and holds weekly open chess nights in the summer on Wednesdays.

“We have students from all academic backgrounds including musicians and athletes. There is no typical player, and recently we have a lot of parents playing,” said Murray. “We network with people from all over the county-we set up boards and play. I work with people individually.”

Murray along with 26 students and 21 parents recently attended the National Scholastic Chess Championship in Nashville where his Kindergarten through third grade team placed fifth in a speed tournament.

“They had to play all of their moves and have the whole game finished in five minutes. There were 5400 kids at this tournament so to place fifth was fantastic,” Murray said proudly. And in March his middle school team won state championship at Rutgers.

“I love interacting with kids and watching them grow. They learn a chain of logic. The high school kids can think farther ahead. It helps develop critical thinking and logic. It’s been called the greatest puzzle game of all time,” he comments.

Although Murray believes he has the best and most organized student club in New Jersey, he stresses about his labor of love: “Nobody has any idea how much time I spend doing this; even though we are a 501-C3 official non-profit, we do no traditional fundraising.”

Murray moved to Lake Mohawk in 1990 where he lives with his wife Dean who does not play chess and finds it a bore. And when he is not making his next move, he enjoys golfing, trivia and bird watching.

To make a donation to the Sparta Chess Club or for more information on joining ObscureMyEmail or call 973-726-9405.

Murray Family Oyster Stew, a Christmas Family Tradition

Place the contents of one quart of stewing oysters in a frying pan. Heat gently until the ends of the oysters curl up.

Place the oysters in a large soup pot; add one half gallon of milk (any combination of skim, 2 percent or whole).

Heat the stew gently-do not overheat. Add ground black pepper, butter and a splash of sherry (optional).