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Its more than just a game to Cameron

With everything else going on in the world, Cameron Low knows his chances of getting what he wants aren't all that good. But if he's willing to try, I'm willing to help him.

As usual, the best place to start is at the beginning, which for Cameron was about 12 years ago, right here in Southeast Portland. Not much to report about those early years, except that his mom, Lori, was mostly unemployed, living on food stamps, and his dad wasn't around all the time.

In fact, three years ago or so, he took off for good. Cameron hasn't heard from him since Ñ although Lori says he sometimes asks her: 'Do I look like my dad?'

And then there was Eric, who is the father of Cameron's little sister. You can tell by the way Cameron talks about him that he really likes him, too.

For one thing, Eric taught him to play chess. Sometimes the games would go on for hours. Cameron didn't want to lose, because if he did, Eric made him do push-ups.

In any case, that's how Cameron learned to play chess. He caught on so fast, in fact, that pretty soon he was beating Eric. Last year, while he was still in fifth grade, Cameron entered the city tournament and came in first in his division.

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But Eric and Cameron's mom started having their difficulties, and Eric moved out. 'It was kind of off and on,' explains Cameron. 'They were together, then they weren't. But I think they're happy now because they're not fighting.'

At the time, though, Cameron was pretty stressed out. And when he enrolled at Kellogg Middle School at 69th and Powell as a sixth-grader last fall, he was a holy terror. Lori recalls the day the vice principal, Gene Blevins, called her in for a conference and told her that Cameron was so disruptive in class he'd be suspended if he didn't change. His grades were going downhill, too.

Who knows for sure how these things turn around? Lori's best guess is that it happened because Cameron started playing chess again in Kellogg's after-school chess club. Cameron was so good that Jeff Johnson, a language arts teacher who coaches the Kellogg chess team, started bringing in other teachers to play against him. Cameron beat them all. 'He's a natural,' says Johnson.

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'Chess turned my life around,' says Cameron, sounding more grown-up than a 12-year-old should have to Ñ 'and instead of getting bad grades, I'm getting all A's and B's.' Besides that, says Lori, every night before school he does his homework and then lays out his clothes for the next day. What more can you ask?

So here's the pitch: Cameron wants to go to the national junior high chess tournament, which will be held in Kissimmee, Fla., at the end of this month. But of course he doesn't have the money to go. His mother figures that two airline tickets will cost about $300 each. The motel for five nights will cost $100 a night. Plus, they have to eat Ñ and of course, Disney World is right there, so make it about $2,000 to get Cameron to the nationals.

I'm chipping in $50. If anybody else wants to help, you can call the Trib at 503-226-6397. Win, lose or draw Ñ and Cameron, of all people, knows how tough these tournaments can be Ñ I've got a feeling this kid is coming out on top.

Contact Phil Stanford by phone at 503-546-5166 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .