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Inner Southeast "mental athletes" again compete at chessboards

Photo Credit: DAVID F. ASHTON - Sellwood Middle School Chess Club player Lucas Petersen ponders his next move.Local nonprofit “Chess for Success” held its “Athletics for the Mind” regional competition for middle school students at four locations in the greater Portland area on February 7, including Southeast Portland’s Harrison Park School.

Seated at rows of tables in the cafeteria, dozens of normally-energetic, chatty, and wiggly kids all sat still and silent. Each player studied the pieces on the chess board, made his or her move, and recorded the play on a notepad.

For 23 years, Chess for Success has started chess clubs, and funded staff for them in underperforming schools throughout Oregon, said Executive Director Julie Young, who was helping out at this tournament.

“In our pilot program, Portland Public Schools saw that, no matter where kids were in their educational standing – including having learning and attention deficits – when they joined a chess club, their behavior, grades, and social skills measurably improved,” Young told THE BEE. “It’s continued, because it’s clear that we provide a successful and very cost-effective afterschool program.”

But, all young chess players in the region – 7th and 8th graders, at this particular tournament – are invited and welcomed to the regional competitions. “We have about 100 players here today; some of them are home-schooled, and others come from public and private school chess clubs,” Young pointed out.

During regional tournaments, students can compete both in teams and as individuals, commented Young. “Tournaments consist of five rounds of chess. Students with top scores at the regional tournaments qualify to compete in the Chess for Success State Championships, which are held at the Oregon Convention Center on March 13th and 14th.”

Students from Inner Southeast Portland school chess clubs were plentiful at this tournament. “Sellwood and Winterhaven tied for first place in the Team Tournament,” Young revealed after the tournament.

One round of play ended, and different student chess players were called up to the tables. Tournament Master Clay Kelleher made sure all of the youngsters were in place, before he called for the next round of play to begin.

“I love hearing how the lives of young people have been changed for the better by their learning to play chess,” Young quietly commented to us just outside the hall. “Over the years, I’ve had many teachers tell me they are amazed to see some of the students sitting still and concentrating – something they've never seen in their own classrooms.

“It’s more than a game,” added Young. “It’s training for a better life.”

Learn more about Chess for Success, volunteer, or consider contributing to this 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, by visiting them online: www.chessforsuccess.org.

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