This is the third year of the all girls chess camp run by the West Louisville Chess Club at Louisville Urban League
Salgu Wissmath, Courier Journal
While Gov. Matt Bevin’s controversial remarks this week about the West Louisville Chess Club sparked a backlash in the community, on Thursday fifth-grader Keyaira Thompson wasn’t giving it too much thought.
She just wanted to win against her older sister, Kaleisha.
When asked who would win in a game of chess, Kaleisha begrudgingly nodded toward the younger Keyaira and said, “Probably her.”
The siblings were two of about 40 girls who took part in a chess camp this week at the Louisville Urban League hosted by the West Louisville Chess Club.
Bevin sparked controversy this week when he said in a promotional video that a chess club was “not something you necessarily would have thought of when you think of this section of town.”
But the girls at the camp weren’t thinking about Bevin’s comments.
Instead, they were busy devising new strategies and listening to Corbin Seavers, the club’s coach.
The girls patiently leaned over pink-and-white chess pieces as “Coach Corbin” explained that chess is a game of sportsmanship. Hands eagerly soared into the air when the coach asked for answers to various chess questions.
For participants, the camp offered exposure to a new game. Others joined out of a deep-rooted desire to win against more experienced family members. One camp-goer said she joined solely to beat her grandfather.
The day camp is part of the chess club’s initiative to get more girls interested in the game. Seavers, who has been coaching chess since 2010, said he noticed a lack of girl chess players and women grand masters. He’s on a mission to dispel the notion that chess is a boys’ game.
Seavers preferred not to dwell on the governor’s comments. Neither did the leaders at the Louisville Urban League, which helps fund the chess club.
“I really don’t have much to say,” said Samuel Johnson, director of youth and development education for the urban league. “We’re focused on just providing our youth with the best opportunities to play this game and to be the best that they can be.”
Carla Robinson, program coordinator at the urban league, said chess is not a new phenomenon in western Louisville.
“It’s been happening, in homes all across the West End,” she said. “People have chess boards and people play chess.”
This year the West Louisville Chess Club took first place in Cincinnati’s Queen City regional chess tournament in a bracket for fourth- to sixth-graders.
The club is currently raising money to compete in a national tournament in 2019 and is using summer projects like the all-girls camp and other urban league initiatives to recruit more members.
“What I love about this as a sport is that the only way you get better — you have to get more disciplined, you have to study more and develop that mind,” Seavers said. “You can be as fast as a gazelle, but that’s not going to help you.”
This kids share what they learned at chess camp this summer
Salgu Wissmath, Courier Journal
Club members are primarily in grades K-12 and mainly come from Jefferson County Public Schools in the West End. They meet at the Louisville Urban League two Saturdays a month to compete and prepare for tournaments.
“We want to provide quality out-of-school-time programs, and chess is just one of the programs that we offer here at the League — it’s really taken off,” said Johnson.
Hailey Mize, 15, one of the few girls in the club, helped with the camp. She’s competed in many local tournaments across the region.
“I think you can put chess into life,” Mize said.
As an example, she mentioned a “one-touch” rule, which means that once a player touches a piece, it must be played.
“In life, once you do something, it’s already done,” Mize said. “You can’t really take that back.”
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