On Monday evening, in the regional high school cafeteria, Ed Painter, a gray-haired chess master, faced off against a young Sam Grimm, who learned the game a couple of weeks ago.

“I think I want to go here, because this guy can take this guy, and this guy is protected,” Ben said, as he marched a pawn to the center of the board.

Mr. Painter agreed with his reasoning: “It’s a good thought,” he said.

Miles Brown (right) takes a break in the action. — Courtesy TJ Reap

Their game, played in a spirit of collaborative improvement, took place at community chess night, a recently-revamped weekly event that aims to bring together players of all ages and skill levels.

Throughout the cafeteria Monday, beige and green cloth chessboards were rolled out on tables as players of all ages and abilities sat across from each other. Community chess night has a long history, started by high school English teacher Dan Sharkovitz. But when Mr. Sharkovitz died in 2020, so did the tradition.

TJ Reap arrived at the regional high school in the summer of 2021, as a physical education teacher and assistant football coach. He also brought with him his love for chess. When he revitalized the high school chess team, he said he began hearing about the impact Mr. Sharkovitz made on the community through chess nights.

“As the chess program grew and developed, I heard a lot of compliments about Dan,” Mr. Reap said. “They talked about the programming he did in the school through the '80s and '90s and early 2000s.”

One of the most beloved of those programs, Mr. Reap said, was community chess night.

“This was a great community event and we get to really bring that back,” he said.

Erica, Kevin Jr. and Olivia Soules debate strategy. — Courtesy TJ Reap

Monday was the third community chess night, with the number of participants roughly doubling each time.

“I’m hoping that we get to a point where we’ve got a room filled with kids who are beginners and parents who are beginners, and then the medium level players and the best players in a round robin,” he said.

In the cafeteria, Mr. Reap played chess matchmaker, setting up contests, or informal lessons, between players young and old. Then he held court at the center of the table, playing a spirited series against eight-year-old Miles Brown, with an enthusiastic young crowd leaning in to analyze the game.

“You got me in a bind here, buddy,” Mr. Reap said, as Miles advanced his king down the board, challenging Mr. Reap’s position and threatening his rook.

Meanwhile, towards the back of the room, a group of parents took a break from the action.

“It’s great to see them so excited,” said Nancey Merriman, whose son Logan was locked in heated competition.

Amy Grimm, Sam’s mother, agreed.

“I wasn’t sure if this was something you needed to know before you came,” she said. Adding that although her son has just begun to play, “he’s already hooked.”

Community Chess Nights take place Mondays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the MVRHS cafeteria.