LEGAZPI CITY?In 2009, then 12-year-old Janelle Mae Frayna went to the public market of Tabaco City in Albay province to play chess.
Janelle, a resident of this city and a student of Divine Word College of Legazpi (DWCL), was in Tabaco to compete in a sports writing contest during the Bicol Regional Secondary Schools Press Conference. With time to spare, she asked her school paper?s adviser for permission to leave so she could look for a place to play chess.
Eventually, she found the market, where men of all ages spent their idle time playing the board game. She played and mesmerized onlookers after she won several games. Soon, potential opponents waited in queue for their turn to face the girl.
Geraldine Barrun, adviser of DWCL High School?s The Divinian newsletter, still remembers that day when Janelle sought her permission in Tabaco. ?She won?t let a day pass without playing chess,? she says.
?She?s weird, but in a positive way,? says Lon Meyanne Abad, a friend of Janelle. ?Those who don?t know her will get intimidated because she looks serious.?
Abad says Janelle has aspired to become a grandmaster since she was 12.
Adelaida Perez, another teacher, says the girl was able to balance her passion for chess and school work, and managed to excel at both.
?Sometimes, she would look at me while I was teaching and [unwittingly display an expression showing] she?s unconvinced [by what I was saying],? says Amalia Rito, the school principal and Janelle?s former science teacher. ?But you could see it in her eyes that she knew things.?
Rito says Janelle, on many occasions, got perfect scores in her exams. She has been a consistent honor student ever since.
Ma. Cecilia Arbo, a former classroom adviser, says she knew early on that her student ?has an analytical mind.?
?She always joined competitions outside [our school], but she never neglected her studies. She was determined in class,? Arbo says.
Her mother, Corazon Sonia, says she?s not a bit surprised with her daughter?s achievement because of her determination and focus every time she competes, Corazon says.
?I see her as a fighter. That time, when she played chess [with grown men] at the Tabaco public market, she proved that,? Perez says.
Janelle joined the Magayon Chess Club in 2008 on the encouragement of Dante Magno, the group?s public information officer. She beat the club?s best players, say Cyril Bongalon, one of her mentors, and Marvid Zuniega, club president.
?She was never afraid. She would play and beat anyone,? Zuniega says.