Chicago’s Earle STEM Academy saving chess!

Chicago is a city that is struggling with many things. Apart from all of the controversy surrounding the Chicago Police Department, the state is gripped in a financial budget crisis affecting many programs and institutions. Chicago State University, which is threatened with closure, had students who shut down expressways and traveled to Springfield, Illinois to protest the failure to pass a state budget.

Carlisa Ford enjoys playing and would like to continue.
Photo by Andrea Watson.

Over the past several years, scores of Chicago Public Schools have been closed or merged and programs have been cuts. These issues are affecting the entire education system in the state and Chicago schools have been one of the biggest losers. It doesn’t take long to realize the economic and social impact of these cuts… and impact on crime rates. Recent budget cuts have resulted in the loss of extracurricular programs for students.

One of the casualties has been the Earle STEM Academy which in west Englewood in one of the most challenged areas in the city. The club has been very successful winning several location competitions and have also competed in National K-12 tournament.

Earle STEM Academy on the southside of Chicago is hoping to continue the chess program offered at the school. The Chicago Public School budget cuts has resulted in a $17,000 cut for chess activities. Mr. Joseph Ocal (far right) stands with students and parents to keep program going.

Earle STEM Academy recently set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the school’s chess program. The $17,000 lost means that the program has to be run with personal funds. Joseph Ocal has been running the program and had to break the news to his 35 players. They were devastated. Ocal plans to run the program anyway. He will volunteer twice a week, from 4-6 p.m. at the school, 2040 W. 62nd St., and all day on Saturdays before competitions. He pays for food out of his own pocket.

Those in the chess world will know this story all too well. The dedicated chess coach who gives of his/her time and own money. It is a thankless job, but one that carries extreme importance in places like Chicago where idle minds usually end up leading to trouble. So far the GoFundMe effort has brought in nearly $9,000 of the $17,000 target.

Go visit the GoFundMe page click here!

Andrea Watson, “CPS Budget Slashed for Top-Ranked Englewood Chess Team,”, 18 February 2016.

Andrea Watson, “Donations Are Rolling in To Save Englewood Elementary School’s Chess Team,”, 19 February 2016.


  1. Wow , whats goin on in Chi-town? i just came from the U.S Chess facebook page and i see this, my hometown what they playin some chess out there or what?

  2. We are very excited to share that the Englewood Chess Team won BIG over the weekend at a huge citywide youth tournament in Edgewater. Coach Ocol proudly shared that, “Our kids won a First Place team trophy, two individual trophies (including a Perfect Score trophy) and an individual medal. More than 420 students participated in this YCFC chess tournament.” Congrats Englewood!

    Coach Ocol went on to explain that he, “told the kids that trophies are important only if they relate to one’s building of sterling character and great attitude in life. I relayed to them that trophies lose their luster in the course of time; what is more important is the stamina of character in one’s day-to-day pursuit in making this world a better place. I’m proud of them though because I see in their eyes and smiles that glitter of hope that chess can make a difference in their lives.”

    Ocol wanted to extend another thank you to the GoFundMe community who has responded with such overwhelming support and generosity over the past several days: “Thank you very much for all your efforts and time in helping our kids. It means a lot to them and to our school.”

  3. I was shocked to find that chess has been banned, BANNED, from the Woodlawn Tap 55th and South Chicago.. formerly a hot bed of friendly chess.. apparently per the bartender blitz for money led to ‘disagreements’..

  4. The work done brings to mind the work of the late Tom Fineberg (have I the name right?) at Tuley Park.. I wonder if that good work has left any traces? (in Chicago)

  5. Hector Hernandez for one is doing fine volunteer work through Chicago Public Library system… a caller asked, ” can I come to meeting at library.. I am not Hispanic?” Hector’s answer “all are welcome .. and this is public library ” ..was it ‘Brighton Park’ Branch??

  6. Judge George N Leighton (after whom a court building in Chicago is named) used to play in the old Chicago Chess Club on Wabash near Roosevelt University under the el..
    decades ago.. I met J Ellis at North Central Open ( Wm Martz Memorial)..
    we reminisced about the old days.. Judge Leighton came up… He still lives !!! at age 103 per google .. now in Massachusetts..played USCF chess into his 90’s per USCF site

    A person well worth remembering in terms of the history of Chicago chess..

      1. wow , truly amazin dunno how i missed ur articles perhaps ill get a chance to catch up on them later! tx for the info!

  7. Monin drummas we bout that work today? Ya KNOW to be great in chess requires consistent and persistant effort? Ya KNOW when u study true genius in chess u will discover not only does it require SUPREME CONFIDENCE it also requires SUPREME PATIENCE. Study fisher.

  8. Monin young drummas, if ya ever in Buffalo, N.Y. come on down to the Buffalo Public Library and go in the Grosvenor Room and check out the Tape on Bobby Fischer with Mike Wallace on how he explains why he gunna win the World Title, its a White Tape old school! If u wanna rise to the CHESS GENIUS LEVEL ya gotta do the genius work that means ya gotta listen to it for 10 years over 5000 times to truly get into the mind of a genius so by the time ur done u will look up and it will be u, try it its a fun exercise! lol

  9. Good day, ya know young drummas if Fischer claims to have been the best since 1964 -72 its a good idea to study all the games cuz you may find out hes tellin the truth. Its easy to just call somebody ARROGANT, perhaps some do that cuz they chose not to do the real work, IN REAL LIFE. Listen to th the tape ans study the games also if u desire to greatness in CHESS.

  10. Bobby Fischer was a true genius so when u get a chance find a book of his collected games i think he played around 800 to 900 practice games , start from game 1 and study everyone of them , do the work, it may take you around 8-10 years to complete the book but if you take it SERIOUSLY , um sure it will be well worth it, oh Gm Pontus Carllson thats really me on as the ULTRAMODERNIST. excuse me young drummers , i just wanted him to KNOW I DONT JOKE IN REAL LIFE!!! CHESS.

  11. Once you have become SUPREMELY STUDIOUS, there is a site called the ICC you can go there and Practice with the top Gms and test out your findings, be creative vs the traditionalist, this will bring out your SUPREMELY COMPETITIVE SPIRIT IN ORDER TO WIN, i used to practice the 1minute chess as the ULTRAMODERNIST once i was told by the Buffalonians how good their gm was supposed to be of course all this will all take some time, maybe 10-20 years but by then it will be well worth it and you will Learn to KNOW CHESS.

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