By Leslie Ellis
Members of the national award-winning Detroit City Chess Club challenged each other, their coaches and the community to battle wits outside Chrysler Elementary School on Lafayette during the ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day last month.
The chess challenge was one of more than 250 community improvement projects held in zips codes all over Detroit during the daylong event.
Tables, chairs and chess boards set up on a shady stretch of sidewalk near downtown served as an invitation to play. “You get people that drive by and want their kids to play it to learn. Some say, ‘We can’t play now, but can you give us more information?’” Coach Kevin Fite said. “It’s open to anybody. Most of the kids are national champion kids. They compete all over the country.”
In 2002, Fite was a mathematics teacher at the city’s now-shuttered Duffield Elementary School for kindergarten through eighth grade when the chess club began.
“I asked the kids if they played chess. Only two admitted it. Out of 150 kids, those two came,” Fite said. “But more and more started coming. Then some of the popular kids came. Once the popular kids started coming, it just took off. It changed the culture of the whole school. When new kids would come, they’d ask them, ‘Do you play chess?’
“An eighth-grade girl asked me, ‘What if high school doesn’t have chess?’ I didn’t know what to tell her. That’s how (the citywide club) got started, because of her.”
Playing chess builds students’ self-esteem and opens new horizons, Fite said. He added most club members make it to college.
Zoe Frazier of Detroit, who will enter eighth grade at University Prep Science & Math Middle School in the fall, has been playing chess with the club for the past four years.
“When we play in the community, people see all these kids beating the older guys. They actually want to see us play,” she said. “Coach Fite is always telling us to play people we don’t know so we can teach them or learn from them. When you beat an adult, it feels kind of good.”
If you missed your chance to play chess with the club during Neighborhoods Day, don’t worry. The Detroit City Chess Club welcomes the public to join in games held from 4-8 p.m. most Friday nights in Prentis Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Visit the DIA’s website for upcoming dates.
Leslie Ellis is a Detroit-area freelance writer
Over the next few days we will feature other stories about Neighborhoods Day.