Rows of green and white checkered boards stretched across white tablecloths in the conference room. Fourteen of SA’s highest-rated chess scholars approached the tables where their opponents waited. The players’ rankings hung in the balance, and on center stage, their awards glittered blue and gold under bright lights.
This was the 2021 National K-12 Grades Championship for Chess in Orlando, Florida, where the SA Chess Travel Team scholars participated in a long-standing SA tradition, made possible through the support of our donors and our Advancement Team. The competition was high, with over 1,235 of the nation’s youngest, brightest chess players in attendance.
The first in-person travel tournament since the start of the pandemic, the Grade Nationals was an astounding return to form, with SA scholars taking 3rd place team for 7th and 9th grade, second place team for 8th and 10th grade, and 3rd place team and 3rd place individual for 5th grade.
The return of in-person tournaments was also an occasion for more camaraderie. Scholars were able to cheer one another on and feel the full impact of being on a team. “It was great to see scholars together in person this year since last year’s tournament was held online,” said Matt Morales, SA’s Chess Program Manager. “The kids adjusted right away; they were ready to get back to the game in an in-person setting.”
For scholars like Cam and Christopher Baez, the Grade Nationals was their first time playing chess on a national level, and the experience taught them to be better chess players.
“This was a large learning moment for me as a chess player,” said HSLA 10th grader Christopher Baez. “Going through my games, I found specific things to improve on so that when I return to nationals or any other travel tournament, I join as a better player.”
Cam Baez noticed that they got better at dealing with tense situations, partially because they had their team there. “If I lost, they were there to support me. Grade nationals was a team-bonding experience.”
Ensuring scholar access to tournaments like the Grand Nationals, as well as a robust chess curriculum in our schools, is fundamental to SA’s mission and made possible through the generous support of SA donors. These trips are often expensive and limited to students from much more affluent communities that can afford to sponsor the expenses. Being able to experience tournament play and learning to win and lose graciously helps scholars develop character and poise.
To show their appreciation, scholars wrote thank you notes to donors, sharing their love of the game and the experiences they had. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“You guys were the reason why this experience was as impactful as it was to me because you were able to take care of everything we needed during this trip.” —Daguy Vaval, 9th grader at SA-HSLA-Manhattan
“Thank you for investing in the chess program both literally and figuratively… The Success Academy Chess Program is excellent, and I love how committed you are to the students. In my experience, being part of a team with lots of supporters pushes one to recognize one’s responsibility to the team and pursue common goals.” —Geah Jean Baptiste, team captain of the chess club, 11th grader at SA-HSLA-Manhattan
“Thank you for paying for these travel tournaments and believing in us. Without you, we would not be able to visit these amazing places and learn and get better at chess.” —Mouhamadou Tall, 9th grader at SA-HSLA-Manhattan
Our Chess Travel Team scholars are already looking forward to their next travel tournament — New York State Scholastic Championships in mid-March in Saratoga Springs, NY. Over 100 chess scholars are projected to attend, so be sure to wish these chess lovers and future grandmasters good luck in the coming months!