Book on Chess Triumph has "Staying Power"

In reading Salome Thomas-EL's "I Choose to Stay," one can feel the energy and emotion bursting from the pages of this story of trial, tribulation, and triumph. Thomas-EL starts with the choice he had to make between taking a $20,000 raise to take an Assistant Principal's position at a neighboring school or staying with Roberts Vaux Middle School, a school with limited possibilities for advancement. This scenario set the stage for what was to become a series of challenges for Thomas-EL, the seventh of eight children of a single mother.

The story follows Thomas-EL's educational journey as he had to make tough decisions about "fitting in" in school and balancing his thirst for scholarship with staying grounded in the realities of his community. This was perhaps illustrated when he had to endure racial harassment at
East Stroudsburg College.  Perhaps this toughened Thomas-El's resolve and gave him the dedication that later became infectious.

After finishing school, Thomas-El found himself at a crossroads. While trying to find his way, he developed a niche as a sought-after substitute teacher. As destiny would have it, he ended up at securing a position at Vaux  where he quickly made an impact with his "Second Chance" program (for troubled students). This program became a vehicle through which he would reinvigorate the Vaux Chess Club in 1994.  Vaux had previously won eight National Championships in the 1970s and 80s and Thomas-EL felt chess would be a good way to challenge the students.

One of the facts that was so revealing about the book was Salome Thomas-EL's dedication and focus on the children. Despite the usual trials of work, personal goals and family obligations, Thomas-EL forged ahead and with his own time, money and energy took the kids around the country to compete in National tournaments.  His dream was realized with Vaux Middle School won the
1997 National Championship (Knoxville, Tennessee) for teams under-1000 section.

"Sunday after the ceremonies, our kids strutted around the University of Tennessee campus, carrying eleven trophies and plaques, "We're the Mighty "Bishops!" they screamed. I followed behind them, proud to be with them and always wanting to be sure that they didn't do anything foolish. But I was as excited as they were. These were my kids-and they were fulfilling my dream for them."

The book also highlights the impact Thomas-EL had on the individual lives of players, some of whom had no father figures in their homes. Names such as Kenyetta Lucas, Anwar Smith, Demetrius Carroll, and Willow "Fu" Briggs, who was later tragically shot and killed. The impact Thomas-EL has had in the lives of these young men a women will last for generations.  Because of his efforts, Vaux received support from the Philadelphia community at-large and even from celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzeneggar and football pro Cecil Martin.

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 book is certainly worth a read if one is interested in educating children, coaching chess, or simply desiring to read an inspiring story. "I Choose to Stay has something for everyone. The book is now available and is published by Kensington Publishing (ISBN 0-7582-0186-9, U.S. $23.00, Canada $26.00). Also visit the "I Choose to Stay" website.


The Chess Drum (Historic Moments), "Roberts Vaux "Bad Bishops" (1977-1981)."

The Chess Drum, "I Choose to Stay" now available at bookstores!!"  7 March 2003.

The Chess Drum, "Chess Coach unveils book about chess triumph at Philly's Vaux!"  26 January 2003.

The Chess Drum, "A Principled Chess Coach says, "I Choose to Stay,"  27 February 2002.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 14 June 2003