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District 191 annual chess tradition kept alive in spite of pandemic barriers

Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 held its annual chess tournament virtually on Dec. 12. More than 50 students engaged online from their bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and more.

This year’s top elementary player was Archer Bodenner, a fifth grader at Harriet Bishop. 

Runner-up was Emery Gehrke and placing third was Levi Spitznagle. 

The district’s secondary (grades 6-12) champion was sophomore James Grabowski. Runner up was ninth-grader Gerald Johnson.

The top grade level winners were:

  • 1st grade—Noah Viana

  • 2nd grade—Henry Koch

  • 3rd grade—Miles Malundo

  • 4th grade—Torin Gehrke

  • 5th grade—Elena Corts

  • 6th grade—Connor Joseph

  • 7th grade—Rynaldo Mejia

  • 8th grade—Mitchell Kellen

While there were some minor internet connectivity issues at the beginning and the tournament lacked the social aspects of engaging face-to-face—like cheering on teammates or hanging out with friends during downtime, the tournament still included the usual competitiveness and enthusiasm. Parents and players alike were thrilled to be able to participate in the event and noted the efficiency of the virtual format. 

“I’m incredibly proud of the way that the students handled this year’s online format,” said chess coach Brian Ribnick, a retired District 191 math and science teacher who was the first recipient of the District 191 Spirit of Excellence award in 2016 and who was inducted in the Minnesota Chess Hall of Fame in 2019. “We look forward to resuming next year’s tournament in person!”

Additionally, the same weekend of the annual tournament, a group of eighth graders from Nicollet Middle School participated in the 8th-grade national championships, finishing 4th in the nation. The Nicollet team was led by Jacob Schoenbauer, who placed 20th overall, and included Mason Pederson, Owen Krick, Kenny Moe and Aiden Callenius. The team is coached by Ribnick.

Chess is an important part of the culture in District 191. One of the longest-running programs in the history of District 191 Community Education, chess residencies take place for one week during the school day in elementary schools across the district, and all schools in the district offer chess clubs.

For more information on upcoming chess opportunities, visit

Posted: Thursday, December 17, 2020 - 13:35