City students keep Ravens in check

Match: Football players give a group of young chess players some extra motivation - and an ego boost.

October 22, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

It was a classic mismatch: the Baltimore Ravens vs. a roomful of adolescents no more likely to bench press 300 pounds than jump over the moon. The Ravens did the only thing they could - beg for mercy.

The Knights of Valor, a Baltimore-based chess program for city youth, got the chance last night not only to meet the stars of the football team but, based on the results of an earlier match-up, a pretty good chance at beating them, and badly.

"You guys have to take it easy on us," said Adalious Thomas, a Ravens defensive back who helped organize last night's match and one earlier in the year.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions misspelled the name of Adalius Thomas, of the Baltimore Ravens, and incorrectly reported the position he plays. He is a linebacker.

Kenneth Tavron, the founder of the Knights, said beating up on professional athletes isn't exactly the point of the program. A few years ago, he got the idea that teaching children to play chess could instill discipline, self-control and competitiveness that would spill over into the classroom and the rest of their lives.

The 40 kids he brought to the Ravens training facility in Owings Mills last night proved him right, he said.

"I see the gleam in their eyes," Tavron said. "They're go-getters."

This is not to say that the prospect of thrashing the Ravens didn't add a little extra motivation. Attendance at practices has been particularly good of late, Tavron said.

"They really put their all into playing the Ravens," he said.

But this time the Ravens came to play too.

Tony Pashos, an offensive lineman whose left forearm is about the size of the kids he was playing, managed to capitalize on his opponents' mistakes - they tended to be at least as interested in the games going on next to them as they were at playing against a professional athlete. He built a two games-to-none lead on the Knights, but it wasn't easy.

"Oh my God, I'm exhausted," Pashos said.

Though without a doubt the marquee matchups of the night were the four simultaneous games played by linebacker Peter Boulware. Two were against grade-school-age opponents, but two were against Knights ringers Michael Graham and Ryan Hackshaw, 18-year-old high school students from East Baltimore who were ready to show no mercy.

"It's more of a psychological thing - you have to think a lot of things ahead," Hackshaw said. "We can really predict his moves ahead."

"Chess is a total power struggle," Graham added. "You don't have anybody to save you. Nobody has your back. It's just you against him, totally individual."

Fortunately for Boulware, that wasn't exactly true last night. Following behind him as he went from board to board was David "The Pawn Master" McDuffie, a Knights coach who helped walk the linebacker through his moves.

If Boulware wasn't a great player on his own, McDuffie said, at least he was a quick study.

"It's the same thing that makes him a good linebacker," he said. "You've got to place yourself in the right position, so you can block and overwhelm your opponent."

Hackshaw was not about to be overwhelmed. In an hour-long battle, rife with some of the fiercest trash-talking ever heard over a chess board, he methodically backed Boulware up against a wall, one small advantage at a time.

"I'm about to whup you, I'm about to whup you," Boulware bragged.

"The brain is too much, the brain is too much," said Hackshaw, taunting the football star while tapping his temple. "I'm thinking too far ahead."

In the end, he was right. He flushed Boulware's king out into the open squares in the middle of board, snapping down his queen and rook and bishop one after the other, taking piece after piece out of Boulware's defense.

Ultimately, "The Pawn Master" stepped in, but it was too late. Checkmate.

"I am too much for him," Hackshaw said. "I am too much."

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