Chess Team Earns Respect

April 29, 1994|By Karen E. Ludwig | Karen E. Ludwig,Contributing Writer

To 18-year-old Jawan Parker, chess isn't just a game for brains and bores.

"People will say to me a lot, 'You don't look like a person who plays chess,' " said the tall, athletically built student, who enjoys playing basketball.

But, sure enough, before and after school, and even during his lunch break, he can be found in City College High School's chess club room, practicing his game.

"It helps me develop my imagination, my patience and my analytical thinking skills," he said.

That hard work has earned him and his teammates -- Harry Martin, Zenon Pantazonis and Donte Everett -- a weekend trip to Michigan. Starting today, they will be the only Maryland team in the 1994 U.S. Chess Federation's National High School Chess Championship.

City's chess team was just a loosely organized club three years ago. But co-captains Harry and Jawan got serious, pulled a team together, and led it to success in two statewide tournaments.

The team won the 1993 championship and placed second this year.

"Now we have a chance to prove ourselves to the whole nation," Jawan said.

The City team earned a spot in the nationals last year, but didn't have the money to fund the trip. This year, the school's office of development raised money through its alumni association, the Baltimore City Chess Initiative Foundation and a group of anonymous donors, Jeff Malter, executive director of the school's Board of Visitors, said.

Today, there are almost 20 students in City's chess club. And nationwide, 24,000 of the U.S. Chess Federation's 70,150 members are children in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Sharon Brunetti, scholastic assistant at the federation.

What draws students to chess?

"When you play chess it doesn't matter how big you are or how strong or fast you are," said Jawan, who learned to play chess when he was 10 years old. "All you have to do is sit down and think."

Teammate Harry, who plays varsity baseball and basketball, added, "I love competition. When you beat anybody it makes you feel good.

"In chess, if you make a mistake it could be the game. In baseball, you can make up for it. You have your whole team. But in chess it's one on one."

City's chess team has had a hard time getting respect and attention, said its members, who complained that the football team gets all the publicity.

"We were the No. 1 team [in Maryland] last year, and no one even knew," Jawan said, acknowledging that avid chess players usually are stereotyped as "nerds" or "eggheads".

But once the team learned it was headed for the nationals, "the jokes were gone and we got a lot of respect," he added. "This brings more attention to other activities [at City] other than football. It shows we can do well in intellectual activities and other sports."

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