Anthony W. Ball, "Utilizing Strategy Piece by Piece: Instructor Vaughn Bennett brings youth on board with intellectual sport," East of the River, February 2003, 41.

here are no balls bouncing when this youth team practices. Passing and kicking aren't necessary to prepare for an opponent. No need to dust off home plate. And this time, there won't be anyone bobbing and weaving or racking around a track. You don't have to be a certain height or weight to gain an significant advantage.

What is required for this sport is patience, along with smarts and lots of strategy. The sport is chess, and the person on the move, helping kids with their pawns, rooks, knights bishops, queens and kings is
Vaughn L. Bennett, 37. A former District of Columbia firefighter, Bennett is the Executive Director of Olympic Chess House, Inc. When you meet him, you'll find out what he likes to discuss most often: chess. If a basketball junkie could be described as a gym rat, it seems that Bennett could be tagged a board rat. But as he tells you, he does it for the kids.

Vaughn Bennett, Executive Director of the Olympic Chess House. Copyright  2002, Daaim Shabazz.

Vaughn Bennett, Executive Director
Olympic Chess House

"I like to see children learn how to play, " said Bennett, a native of Pittsburgh. "There is money, as well as scholarships available for kids in this city who play chess."

However, he is a bit perturbed about the financial opportunities that some D.C. youth are exposed to in the sport. Without going into a lot of details, he will say that, "many children in D.C. have been denied access for the chance to get scholarships that kids in other parts of the city receive."

Bennett holds chess practices for many Ward 7 and Ward 8 children during weekday nights at Benning Branch Library in N.E. and North east Branch Library on Seventh Street, N.E.

"Once I was playing at Howard University in November and I beat a man 21-years old. It doesn't matter how old you are, it's how you practice."

10-year old Ashley McBride, 7th grader at Hardy Middle School

"When I'm practicing, I try different strategies," explained  10-year old Ashley McBride, a seventh-grader at Hardy Middle School. "And then in a tournament, I try to use what I've practiced to defeat my opponent."

"Practice helps prepare me (for games)," Ashley added. "Once I was playing at Howard University in November, and I beat a man 21-years old. It doesn't matter how old you are, it's how you practice."

Ashley says she has taught her cousin how to play, and also like to help little kids tackle the mind-challenging sport. She credits much of her success to Bennett. "He has been real helpful. He has taught me a lot of things about chess. I like it because it increases my mental ability to strategize and the sport is for all ages and all race of people."

Ashley relishes the opportunity to stroll through Dupont Circle and challenge opponents, or taking on all comers at Union Station. She recently completed a 402 record at a tournament in Baltimore.

"Ashley's aunt gave her a chess board at the age of 6," said her mother
Michelle Boyd-McBride. "We met Mr. Bennett at a tournament that Ashley won. I think the game teacher her to think, and also understand the causes and affects of obstacles in life."

Arlene M. Sandifer brings her grandson, David D. Sandifer, 7, to practice at the Benning Road Library. "I just like playing," David said. "By playing you get better. " Adds Arlene, "This beneficial, what Mr. Bennett is doing. It helps David use his energy."


Move at Your Own Risk

Olympic Chess House aims to bring chess opportunities and exposure to children and youth in the city. Bennett finds it especially helpful for youth he instructs to record each move in a chess notebook to encourage questions and observations. This is especially helpful when competing in tournaments.

Olympic Chess House members from Ward 7 participate in a competitive chess tournament at Martin Luther King Library

Olympic Chess House members set up chess games with community youth and resident at the Kid's House Morton St. Community Festival in Northwest this past summer.

Bennett, a high-energy, passionate mover and shaker, also teaches classes at Stanton Elementary in southeast, and helps instruct special needs children on the nuances of the sport at the Moten Center, also in Southeast. In addition, he coaches at Howard University and is involved in the Higher achievement Program for fourth through eighth graders.

"I helped start the National Chess Federation," he said, "which will implement a black collegiate chess league in September."

"Here we have a sport where our youth can use brains to get scholarships. For example, a tournament might last three days. A person, based on his or her success, can actually walk away with scholarship money at the end of three days."

Bennett does not go at it alone. Although he receives help and support, he could use a lot more. "I need help in the forms of grant and proposal writers, actual space and finances," eh siad. "Here we have a sport where our youth can use brains to get scholarships. For example, a tournament might last three days. A person, based on his or her success, can actually walk away with scholarship money at the end of three days."

Bennett also said he needs financial resources to compensate "some of the best teacher that we are fortunate to have."

He is proud of the tutelage provided by his colleagues
Oladapo Adu, an international chessmaster, as well as the highly regarded Enkhbat Teghsuren. John Griffin,  48, is a volunteer who find it rewarding to help out the youth. "most of the kids really want to learn," he said. Bennett is looking forward to collaborating with the Big Chair Chess Club on Sheriff Road in future endeavors with the youth. And the World Bank is going to provide Bennett and the kids space for a scholastic chess tournament to be held downtown on June 7.

"The most important thing is our children," Bennett said. "We have to make competition fair and equitable for a sport that has been underexposed to blacks for so many years."

For more information on the Olympic Chess House, call (202) 227-0102, fax (202) 397-4439 or e-mail
olympicchesshouse@yahoo.com.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 28 February 2003