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Cleveland police, public library host chess challenge



Cleveland police detective Carl Bowers was a national chess champion as a John Adams High School student in 1983. Now, Bowers is using his role in the police department to bring the game he loves to the next generation of CMSD students.

Nearly 600 students competed this week in the annual Chess Challenge at the Cleveland Public Library. It was the culmination of the Progress with Chess program, which Bowers helped bring to the District to teach students the rules of the game and give them the skills to compete in chess and be successful in life.

“We can use chess to teach lessons about the immediate consequences for your actions," Bowers said. "If you move a piece and lose a queen, you have to accept that it's your fault. We hope students can apply these ideas to real life."
Chess boards lined tables in the library's Louis Stokes wing and students slipped on T-shirts of their school's designated color over their uniforms. When the moderator gave the signal, players shook their opponent's hand and began the game of quiet strategy.   
Students played against their peers at other schools, with 3rd- through 5th-graders from Newton D. Baker School of the Arts and Iowa-Maple, Campus International and William C. Bryant schools playing Tuesday. Sixth- through eighth-graders from Newton D. Baker, Patrick Henry, Riverside, William C. Bryant and Willson schools competed Wednesday.
The mood of silent concentration shifted during the awards ceremony, when individual students came forward to accept small trophies as their classmates cheered them on. Newton D. Baker dominated in both age groups, winning the large trophies for most individual wins and the two $250 checks donated by the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association and the Black Shield Police Association. 

After the competition, Bowers along with Cleveland police officers Erwin Eberhardt and Michael Belle -- also former John Adams chess team members -- played against students in real chess and a giant version of the game in the library’s Louis Stokes wing. The officers said they hoped to pass along some of their chess expertise and give students a positive interaction with law enforcement.

“We had coaches who helped us along, and now we want to help find the next national chess champion from Cleveland,” Bowers said.


Progress with Chess has been in District schools since 2001, when Bowers helped obtain a grant from RPM International Inc. The program now reaches about 500 District students each year, introducing chess to most for the first time.

Chess instruction takes place during the school day in eight CMSD schools once a week for around 15 weeks. Some schools also offer after-school chess clubs.

William C. Bryant teacher Laura Saathoff said that once a week, a Progress with Chess instructor comes to her math class for chess practice. At the end of class, she ties chess into a math lesson.

“After learning chess, they do better overall,” Saathoff said. “They develop higher level thinking skills when it comes to math. I can see it working.”

It also gives students with special needs and learning disabilities the chance to be part of something special, Saathoff said.
For some students, the Chess Challenge was just one of many competitive chess events they are a part of throughout the year. Newton D. Baker fourth-graders Evan King and Adriel Mendez, who were among the winners at this event, also have won championships in their school and at the city and county levels.
"What I like about chess is the excitement of it and you don't know if you're going to win or lose," King said. "You don't know how good or bad the other player is. If you lose, you can do better next time." 
Click through the gallery to see photos from the chess challenge.