Free Classes Propel Grant Elementary to Tournament Success
Posted: 8 months, 2 weeks ago
By Abel Talamantez and Eric Lai
“Success comes when preparation meets opportunity,” is an oft-repeated expression. For the kids at Grant Elementary School, a predominantly low-income Latino school in downtown San Jose, success at chess would seem unlikely. But propelled by student enthusiasm and the right support, that is exactly what is happening.
Coach James Bethany, Assistant Director of Enrichment at BayAreaChess and no stranger to creating champions out of rookies, has been teaching and coaching chess at Grant since 2013. It began as a free lunchtime class, one of ten that BayAreaChess today offers locally. Bethany would invite curious, wide-eyed children to come in. “So many of them had never seen chess before. Most of them thought it was checkers.” So Bethany would teach them the basics: the names of the pieces, how they moved, how to checkmate, etc.
Soon many of them were hooked, and Bethany was drawing a regular crowd of kids who wolfed down their lunches and then ran over to play chess. From one weekly class, this expanded to twice-weekly classes, all provided for free to the kids with the financial support of Grant Elementary.
The next step was to create a weekly after-school class to help kids get more serious. Through the help of Principal Paulette Zades and a key parent volunteer, Lilian Flores, Grant Elementary was able to get state funding to provide two coaches to come to Grant.
“I was inspired to help bring the chess class to our afterschool program because I have seen how excited the students are every time they have the opportunity to play chess during their lunch recess,” She said. “I have seen Coach James teach with such joy, respect, and enthusiasm. During lunch, the students only get to play for 10 minutes, so I felt they need to extend the time.”
Lilian also noticed the positive social interaction between different grade levels and the students’ increased self-esteem. “The students’ confidence and camaraderie has been growing. They look happier and they have created an atmosphere of respect towards each other,” she said. “I really like how age makes no difference. All of the participants learn to win and lose the game with grace.”
Now there was a budding group of 25 regulars meeting after school, many of whom were improving by leaps and bounds. “You could tell who was really fascinated by chess by the way they would talk about their recent games. It wasn't just a new hobby, it had become a new passion,” Bethany said.
The final step: sending a team to their first tournament to test their actual mettle. And what a tournament it was - the massive SuperStates 2018, which drew almost 1,200 players. Through free entry fees and U.S. Chess memberships provided by BayAreaChess’ sponsors such as Shastha Food, US Chess Trust and CalChess, Grant was able to send a team of five, all of them unrated first-time players. And coached by Bethany, they excelled, taking second place in the K-6 Rookie section, ahead of 17 other teams. Two Grant players, Christian Moreno and Chris Le, tied for 16th place out of 96 players, while one player, Manuel Heredia, tied for 1st with a perfect 5-0 record.
“The thrill of competing at States as a team has really brought them together,” Bethany said.
The Grant chess club in May also hosted the top-rated 11-year-old in the country, FIDE Master Christopher Yoo, who played a simul against the team.
Both States and Yoo’s visit have sparked a flame - now the kids are playing constantly, as well as talking about all of the other tournaments they want to compete in. “They’re proud of their finish at States, and they’re really running with this,” Bethany said.
Which just goes to show - given the right preparation and the right opportunity, success in chess, and life - can come.
To see more pictures of our Grant chess club and classes, check out our Facebook album.
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