be the king AND queen of the playground this summer

Bring your own pieces to the Hoover playground this summer and challenge your favorite Mt. Lebanon chess or checkers player to a friendly match on Hoover school’s playground. A large stone chess table now sitss near the swings and slides, thanks to a generous donation by Pranevich Cement Contracting. “I wanted the kids to have something unique and hand crafted, one of a kind,” says company owner Corri Pranevich, “I just wanted to do something only I could do.”

The table is the Hoover Class of 2015’s Fifth Grade Gift. Each year’s gift is part of a long-standing school tradition of efforts that improve the landscape and environment of the grounds of the school, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

At the table’s recent ribbon cutting, Pranevich, the table’s designer, met more than 40 of the excited students and families.

Fifth grader Lindsay Bruder is enthusiastic about the playground improvement, “It’s awesome!,” she says. “It is so much fun and I can practice my chess on it!”

Hoover chess table2Kelly Szesterniak, who was recently Hoover principal before being recently named Jefferson Middle School principal, says “The chess table is an amazing addition to the Hoover playground because it will add a unique play option to our recess activities, and will engage student minds in strategic thinking.”

The table’s influence on school culture has already begun. “Hoover students have been very eager to play, and the chess pieces have been checked out at every recess since the unveiling of the table,” she says. “We have also purchased large checkers to be used on the table so that our younger students can use the table as well. We are so grateful to Corri Pranevich for her generous donation. It will have a lasting positive impact at Hoover school.”

The table, which has a retail value of about $4,500, took Pranevich more than 100 hours to design and build for the rugged wear and tear of the playground. Hoover PTA president Kirsten Bruder says the parents and students will be showing their appreciation with a plaque to be installed near the table. “I am so thankful. For her to choose the Hoover students as beneficiaries of this donation is truly fantastic.”

Setting out the large pieces (each about the size of a pop can) for the first time brought a barrage of questions from younger students anxious to learn the rules. “They were so excited to learn that there would be real chess pieces and checkers pieces that they would be able to use, although the thought of waiting until after the ribbon cutting was not the best news to them,” Bruder says. Pranevich was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, “The kids’ reactions were priceless.”

Cassie Mader, the school’s librarian, is planning a lunchtime chess club to help feed the students’ insatiable excitement and questioning interest. “I think that the table will provide students with a drive to learn new things,” she says. “In today’s world of fast-paced, at your fingertips entertainment, the game of chess will cause our learners to re-realize the simple pleasures.”

How the table came to Hoover is proof of the adage, “ A stranger is a friend who is waiting to happen.”

Two years ago, I took my younger son Nick (then 9) to the Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show. Nick, while surrounded by swing sets and jungle gyms of all kinds, was irresistibly drawn to a stone chess table standing in the display of Pranevich Cement Contracting. He started to play against himself with the large plastic pieces (each about the size of a pop can), and his efforts drew the attention of other young boys in the crowd who set about challenging each other in a series of matches that lasted nearly an hour and a half.

I was vaguely embarrassed that he and his new-found posse wouldn’t leave the booth, and I apologetically struck up a conversation with the two women who were working there, the company owner, Corri Pranevich, and her marketing director, Kristin Holzer.

While pawns were sacrificed and queens were taken, I learned Corri was the designer and creator of the table that had captivated the battling players. She held the distinction of being the only female Pittsburgh business owner in her specialization, and she had inherited her business at age 19 from her grandfather. As the fourth generation in her family business, she was now, two decades later, daily doing what she loved, designing stone and concrete installments that brightened and enriched homes and businesses.

As the conflict raged at the table, we discovered that we have a similar commitment to family and a shared love of the South Hills where we both resided. Then she said the most magical words, “I’d like to give one of those tables to a school, so that kids could play with it all the time, but I don’t have any idea how.”

What a fantastic gift she was offering. Having helped around the edges of Hoover’s playground instillation about a decade ago, and as chair of many a PTA fundraising committee, I knew she was giving a profound offer of time and money as casually as if she’d offered me a cup of coffee.

I assured her that I believed Hoover would accept her gift, and that I would see to the details for her. I explained that our playground functions like a small park in our neighborhood, so that others outside of the school system would be able to use her gift by simply putting their own pieces in their pockets and taking a walk to the school. Then I giddily texted the building’s PTA president and asked for a spot on the next morning’s agenda. I had found the most amazing friend for Hoover School.