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O’Hara teenager keeps boredom in check through teaching, playing chess | TribLIVE.com
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O’Hara teenager keeps boredom in check through teaching, playing chess

Sharon Drake
| Thursday, February 13, 2003 12:00 a.m

Justin Papariella’s tournament chess set travels in a canvas bag. The pawns, bishops, and other pieces are plastic, but a little heavier in weight than his other sets.

This simple, but favorite set is used when Justin travels to national tournaments twice a year, when he goes to the Pittsburgh Chess Club meeting weekly, and when he tutors his five chess students.

“I like teaching more than I like playing,” Justin said. “Watching your students play and win is actually more rewarding.

“The key to teaching chess is to make it interesting.”

The active teen could have even more students from the Lower Valley if only he had more time. His schedule is pretty full, however. Mondays, he works with his coach, Jim Booth, who has an “expert” rating as a player. Justin looks forward to playing with his coach because it sharpens Papariella’s skills.

“I get further than on my own,” Justin said.

Later on Monday, Justin switches gears and heads for the indoor arena to play club soccer after working out.

Tuesdays include working out with weights, teaching, and playing in the rated game in Squirrel Hill.

Wednesdays and Thursdays are relatively easy with physical training sessions and teaching chess to his students.

During any slack time Justin slips in some homework and at least one hour daily of studying chess.

The teen leaves his weekends “to get some sleep” and to spend time with friends.

The Glengary Drive resident is used to his busy schedule. During football season this fall, he cut back on chess some because of the daily gridiron practices. He enjoys football more than many other sport and played on kickoffs and punt returns primarily.

He is looking forward to next fall for a chance to play wide receiver and defensive back on Fox Chapel Area High School’s team. The varsity, which made the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, will lose many starters to graduation this year.

Justin is ready to put in the work to move up. In a room at his mother’s O’Hara Township home, Justin has free weights and a bench ready for his workouts, which he does five days a week.

After football season this year, Justin admits he “was a little rusty” at chess. A few days got him into top form again.

He is one of the highest ranking teens in the area, constantly vying in a seesaw game with Ryan Milists of Squirrel Hill for the top of the list.

He has gone as far as second place in nationals. With Ryan as a partner, he plays a new form of team chess.

The partnership took a first place at nationals.

Chess ranking is earned with each win, and a winner is awarded more points if the opponent has a higher ranking.

The teen admits to being very competitive. His mother, Barbara, remembers when he would play board games with her and become “fixated” on learning the games for a while.

Chess became his challenge when he was in kindergarten. There was a chess club at Kerr Elementary School.

Justin said he is one of the few high-ranking players who doesn’t have a parent who plays well. He credits his father with helping him to stick with it when it would have been easier to play only a sport.

Being in the Lower Valley helped him, Justin said. While there are many young players in Squirrel Hill, this area has given Justin just the right amount of support.

Along with the elementary clubs run by Jerry Myers, which started many Fox Chapel youngsters behind the boards, there were friends. When Justin was at Dorseyville Middle School, a small contingent took on a perennial powerhouse, Masterman, from Philadelphia and walked away with the state middle school trophy.

This got added to the staggering assortment of ribbons and trophies in the living room. Justin is hoping to repeat this spring with a high school team representing Fox Chapel Area High School.

“I’d rather be here, especially as far as teaching goes,” Justin said.

He has enjoyed coaching elementary school teams during the summer and running tournaments at local libraries such as Lauri Ann West Memorial.

In fact, he sees a future for himself as a chess tournament director.

His professional future is centered on college first and then perhaps law school.

It’s this area, though, that is his home.

Justin Papariella


  • Age: 16.

  • Family: Parents, Jim and Barbara Papariella.

  • Hometown: O’Hara.

  • Motto for the Valley: “Everything is right here.”

  • Favorite thing about the Lower Valley: “It’s easy to get around.”

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