More than 100 Philadelphia school students participated in the city’s first 24-hour chess tournament last weekend, aimed at providing an alternative to violence.
Half of the participants spent Friday night playing informal games in the Howard Gittis Student Center, while the other half arrived Saturday morning for the tournament.
Temple hosted theevent, which saw a brief appearance from Mayor Michael Nutter on Friday The mayor spoke to the participants before leaving to pick up his daughter.
“Chess is more than a game,” Nutter said. “These are all the skills you will use when you’re older.”
Nutter had a chance to display his own skills in a match against one of the students, but was defeated.
Also in attendance were Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Leteef Street, son of former Philadelphia Mayor John Street.
Street, a Class A ranked player by the United States Chess Federation, played 18 kids at one time.
One of the weekends competitors, 14-year-old Dwight Johnson, said he got involved with chess because of his mother.
“I didn’t think I would like it. I thought it would be a boring game,” Johnson said. “[My mom] said I needed to do an after school program.”
Johnson, along with two of his friends, won iPods for participating for more than 24 hours and playing what they think was well more than 100 games.
The event was organized by Philadelphia’s After School Activities Partnership. Aside from chess events, the group provides other after school alternatives for the city’s children such as dances, debates and scrabble.
“When you go out in the community, you realize there are kids all around here that need enrichment,” ASAP President Marciene Mattleman said.
Mattleman received her degrees from Temple and taught for 18 years in the university’s College of Education while doing research on academic success. After teaching, she left Temple to pursue full-time non-profit work.
Before starting ASAP in June 2002, Mattleman had already established four non-profit organizations.
She credits the idea of a 24-hour tournament to Gil Motley who brought his own team of 25 elementary school children. One of the children placed first in the unrated section of his age group in the State Scholastic Championships in March.
ASAP holds other chess tournaments, and while the next large event is another four months away, there will be an all-girls tournament in June held at Drexel University.
“Philadelphia has a rich history of chess,” Mattleman said. “But it’s kind of fallen on the skids.”
Kriston Bethel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.