West Side afterschool chess club wins 2 national championships

A West Garfield neighborhood student chess team is honored by Chicago City Council. (WLS)
April 30, 2014 3:52:16 PM PDT
What began as a strategy to help save lives has morphed into a way of teaching some students in Chicago lessons of a lifetime. The Chicago City Council honored the club Wednesday after they brought home two national chess championships this spring.

Students at Marshall Metropolitan High School and Faraday Elementary School spend their afternoons playing spirited games of chess as members of their chess club. The chess club started in 2005 as a way to keep the students occupied during critical afterschool hours.

Marshall math teacher Joseph Ocol realized the most dangerous time of day for these students is between 3 and 6 p.m.

"My intention was really only to save lives," Joseph Ocol, chess club founder and coach, said. "One of my students was shot dead. I thought, maybe I can do something after school."

He began attracting chess players with this inexpensive hobby and occasionally pizza.

"I pretty much I came for the food," Lamari Childs, chess club member and national chess team member, said. Childs is one of three students in the club who was crowned national champion after competitions this spring.

"I was like, this is boring," Michael Hobbs, chess club national team member, said. "But I didn't really have anything better to do."

As their interest grew, so did their chess skills. Soon students were winning medals and staying away from trouble.

"It keeps you away from all the violence in Chicago," Bobby Blankenship, chess club national champion, said.

Marshall had the smallest team of all the national teams. Bobby Blankenship, a junior at Marshall, is the champion. Faraday also had two champions from an all-girls national team: Tiarra Fearon and Lamari Childs

"I got fans at my school now," Blankenship said.

Teachers says the chess club students have better attendance, better grades and fewer discipline problems. The club started with a handful of students and now has nearly fifty. They hope to continue with funds to send more players to tournaments.

Load Comments