MADISON, Ala. – Anyone can learn to play chess. That holds true in Madison.
Madison City School students don’t mess around when it comes to chess. The game has become a serious competition where they excel, and they have the hardware to prove it.
The Madison City Chess League (MCCL) got its start at Rainbow Elementary. It was MCCL Executive Director Ranae Bartlett’s brainchild.
After developing the chess program there, Bartlett wanted to offer the opportunity to other students in Madison so they could grow and develop their chess skills. The non-profit organization promotes chess education for K-12 grade students in Madison. Their purpose is exclusively educational and charitable, making MCCL stand out.
“Most chess programs are run to make money. That is true throughout Alabama. I and my coaches are all volunteers,” explained Bartlett.
Coaches are critical to keep the program up and running.
“People are constantly coming up to me in disbelief that we can have a program in Alabama that holds four consecutive State titles and one National title based on volunteers,” said Bartlett.
The Madison City School Board supports the program by providing a subscription for every elementary student on Chesskid.com, an online tool used to teach children how to play. They also pay supplements for teachers to be chess club sponsors. Principals across Madison do their part by allowing tournaments to take place in their schools. That allows students to hone their skills against other students, so by the time they go to state and national tournaments, they are well-practiced.
Volunteers have about an hour a week with students, and some say the limitation makes it difficult to effectively teach them. With about 20 children at once, not everyone can get individualized attention. But Chess Coach Ed Mullin said he found a solution.
“Instead of teaching students to play chess, I teach them how to learn to play chess. Which I think is an important skill,” said Mullin.
Mullin explained children must level up on Chesskid on their own. If they encounter a problem they can’t figure out, that is when he steps in to help.
“The question I ask them is, ‘Who wants to be champions?’ All of them do. Well who wants to do the work to be a champion?”
Mullin doesn’t expect these kids to become chess masters. But he does expect the skills they learn in learning chess will help them as they develop into adults.
Bartlett agrees. She believes chess teaches children strategic planning, time management, and perseverance just to name a few. She said these are all skills they want all children to have.
“It is so gratifying to see the confidence that it can build in kids. When they learn this game they realize if I can do this, I can do anything.”
Rainbow Elementary Principal Dorinda White is proud of her school and her students.
“One of the things that makes it so successful is the way we go about doing chess. We start them really young.”
White said they expose chess to their pre-schoolers with large chess pieces. Kindergarten, first and second graders have the opportunity to attend class and learn to play. The idea is to get them interested and confident in the game early on.
“I think success breeds success. I think they feel successful, therefore they want to keep working at it,” said White.
The Madison City Chess League will hold its second annual City Chess Championship April 21 and 22. For more information on the event and how to register for the Open Section click here. Teams from Madison will be headed to the 2017 Super Nationals, the largest scholastic chess tournament in Nashville May 12-14. The event takes place every four years and 5,000 students are expected to compete. “The best of the best will attend,” said Mullin. “The competition is very intense because there are a lot of kids from a lot of schools that have done a lot of work like Madison that want to win.”
As the chess community continues to develop, Bartlett hopes to one day give the game a place to call home in Madison.
“It would be great to be able to build a chess center in Madison. I think it’s time,” said Bartlett.