Over the past five years, P.S. 503 has run a successful chess program, with the team, called the Sunset Knights, traveling the country to compete. This May, the 24 teammates from first through fifth grade are once again headed to the USCF National Scholastic Chess Championship in Nashville to play against the country’s best players, and the team and its supporters are hard at work raising money to enable the students to make the journey.
To that end, they have set up a page for donations through generosity by indiegogo, with the goal of raising $3,000.
“A colleague of mine at the school and I started [the chess team] as a lunch club,” said the school’s art teacher and chess coach Carlos Graupera. “We are connected with a non-profit organization called Chess in the Schools. They set up and work with low-income schools like ours to create a national level chess-playing team,” he said.
Since the team’s inception, it has won first place in the National Championship (U1000) and first place during the NYC Mayor’s Cup.
“Kids have a chance to play against private school teams and have done well,” added Graupera. “Last year, in the highest section of the U.S. National Scholastic Chess Tournament, we finished fourth in the nation out of around 400 schools. It was great that the team hung with them.”
The entire community has benefited from the team. “The team gives them a sense of belonging and a strong sense of community, and it does the same for the parents and staff that support the team,” said Graupera.
The team’s success over the years can be linked to a series of teams. “The coaches are really motivating and they make every kid believe that together they can achieve greatness,” said Maria Elena, a social worker at the school.
“I think the biggest aid to their success is they are able to practice this game and compete with kids all over the city,” added Graupera. “In the beginning, the kids lose a lot more than they win and it teaches them how to persevere and overcome obstacles.”
Nonetheless, with a big trip that lasts nearly a week come big expenses. “Teachers and parents push to raise the money we need for food for six days for 30-plus kids and adults as well as hotel costs,” said Graupera.
“ We ask for donations and we try to get sponsors,” added Elena. “We ask the children to contribute only $100 for their trip, since for most families that is a large contribution. We take a charter bus to Nashville to save on transportation.”
According to faculty, the team means more to its participants than just chess. “This program has literally changed the course of the lives of some of these kids. They belong to something bigger than themselves,” said Elena, who has had two children on the team.
“It’s a very diverse community and we all come together through chess,” added Graupera.
To donate for the team’s trip to the tournament in Nashville, visit bit.ly/22irlA0.