Chess Coach unveils book about chess triumph at Philly's Vaux!

In the February 2003 issue of Reader's Digest, a 14-page excerpt is presented from Salome Thomas-EL's new book, "I Choose to Stay."

The book is due out in March 2003 and chronicles Thomas-EL's challenges at
Roberts Vaux Middle School in inner-city Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

With the decay of public schools, one would gather that Thomas-EL, doubling as a coach and teacher, would be too busy to provide the attention required for young chess enthusiasts. 

Salome Thomas-EL with Vaux chess players.

Coach Salome Thomas-EL, surrounded by his eager players from Vaux Middle School. (photo by Michael Ahearn)

The reality is that  "Mr. EL" made a decision to stay at Vaux despite being offered a $20,000 raise  to take his talents elsewhere. He then took to rebuilding the once-powerful Vaux chess team into an emerging powerhouse and the 14-page excerpt describes this triumphant spirit.  One of the most intriguing methods of spurring student interest in chess was recounted. What is amazing is how quick the students were drawn in and how quick they had begun their "trash-talking."

* * *

One day Ishmael and I walked into the lunchroom carrying five chess sets. We sat down, placed four boards on a nearby table and opened the fifth. Without saying a word, we began to set up. The room went silent. Before long someone asked, "Are you going to play chess?"

Neither of us said a word. Ishmael and I began to play, ignoring the kids. By now, half a dozen had circled us. One or two kids began to tell us how to move. We continued to play as if we were the only ones in the room.

"I can beat you, Mr. Ishmael," one student said.

"I can beat Mr. EL. I can. My dad taught me," said another.

"You're supposed to be quiet while they're playing," one boy said.

We didn't say anything or acknowledge their presence, just kept playing.

"You aren't very good, Mr. EL," another said now. She was right, but I tried to ignore her. And another student begin giggling. "Even I can beat him."

Suddenly a few kids began asking, "Why can't we play?" "Can I play?"

This was what I'd been waiting for. They had gone from curious to interested. "Step up and show me what you have, " I said.

* * *

"I Choose to Stay," Copyright © 2003 by Salome Thomas-El will be published at $23 by Dafina Books.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 26 January 2003