Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unlikely Chess Champions Avoid After-School Dangers

By: Jenny DeHuff, The Bulletin 03/14/2008

To ask some parents, one might be surprised to learn a student's most vulnerable time is right after school, when they are searching for activity and often lose their way.

Students at Carver High School in North Philadelphia were winners of the Philadelphia Chess League Championship two weeks ago, a proud title they have never borne before.

Just last week, the Philadelphia Scholastic Chess League, comprised of 24 high school teams from around the city, went to state championships in Harrisburg and finished fourth. With help from the After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP), which recruits school-age youth for constructive pastimes like chess, Scrabble games, yoga and debate, students are able to put their restiveness to good work. Dr. Marciene Mattleman, president of ASAP, said this is the first time Carver High School has won a chess competition against the ever-victorious J.R. Masterman High School - a 10-year-in-a-row winner.

"Eighty percent of the kids in Philadelphia public schools come from home incomes so low they are eligible for free or reduced price lunch," she said. "The most violent time for kids is from 3 to 6 p.m., and there are about 35,000 kids alone in the afternoon. This is the time when kids get into trouble, are victims [of crime], and many of them are just home watching TV or playing computer games."

Lee Silverman, chess coach at Carver High, said the Philadelphia Scholastic Chess League now has 220 active chess clubs with 3,000 participants playing weekly in schools, recreation centers, libraries and other community-based centers. "Everything we do teaches skills, respect for rules and guidelines and discipline," he said. "It teaches [students] how to win and lose gracefully." But the true heart-warming story goes beyond the underdog upset of Carver High against Masterman. "Our team is a bunch of inner-city kids," Mr. Silverman said.
"Four out of five [students] come from broken homes, are immigrants, or don't have a mother or father."

Mr. Silverman, who said he was happy to volunteer his time, money and effort to seeing the students succeed, gave credit to Carver High principal Linda Ahmed for making the league possible. Israel Riley, a senior at Carver High, said he first took interest in chess in ninth grade, when he saw a lot of his peers playing it. "It's imbedded in me," he said. "I saw that it was a great competition. Chess challenges your mind and I think that is what is really necessary in life, even over physical strength and ability." Mr. Riley, who is poised to graduate in June, said chess has helped him pursue his future business goals.

Much of the financial support for the chess team is from sponsors like the Philadelphia Eagles, the Annenberg Foundation and PECO. ASAP offers a variety of after-school activities, from bodybuilding and lacrosse to art and dance programs.

Jenny DeHuff can be reached at
©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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