Walter D. Palmer Leadership Preparatory Academy received regional recognition this summer when chess victor Vanita Young was awarded a $40,000 scholarship to Texas Technical University.
Young’s teammates regard her journey as a symbol that chess is a growing extracurricular mental sport that can offer significant reward. To coach Douglas Cox of West Philadelphia, Young’s accomplishment is more than a chess victory.
Hired to provide academic support to students, Cox organized Palmer’s Dark Knights chess club in 2009. It was an easy decision for Cox simply because one chess-savvy student voiced a desire to play chess with his peers.
“Chess has never been about my ego because I realized in the early stages of forming the club that I was not the most gifted player,” Cox said.
Surrounded by highly skilled students, Cox partnered with David Miller, who provides tactical and strategic instruction to the team. This winning combination has allowed the Dark Knights to excel in chess and academics.
Engaging Miller has allowed Cox to wear many hats including motivator, project manager, fundraiser and academic advisor to the team.
During a recent summer practice, several of the students discussed SAT preparatory courses, college essays and various academic support aides for smartphones. It was clear that the team places a high priority on scholastic aptitude as well.
Although Young has been awarded a college scholarship based on her chess aptitude, she aims to score 1200 or higher on her SAT examination.
“I grew up playing chess for fun,” Cox said. “Now I enjoy the time I am able to play and improve my game. As a coach I am able to expose the students to different cultures, people and experiences.”
When asked if it was important to win, coaches and students alike felt that true learning occurs not in the victories, but in the defeat. “Winning is not everything. Because when I lose, I also learn,” said Mingo Johnson, who practices with the Dark Knights but plays on a competing team.
Like Cox, several of the members grew up watching their father and uncles play chess.
“I have been playing since I was in the 5th grade,” Johnson said. “My dad taught me how to play and I continue to learn by practicing, competing and studying strategy.”
Cox provides a diverse learning environment where students are able to play and learn with peers from Palmer and other area schools. In addition, the students are able to practice against other chess enthusiasts as young as five.
Palmer’s Dark Knights has put together one of the best academic chess teams not only in Philadelphia, but around the country. Almost three years later, Cox’s team boast local and national recognition as his team recently competed in a national competition, placing 21st in the country. “We promote young people to follow their dreams in chess and life,” said Cox. “We strive for excellence on and off the board.”
For more information on the Dark Knights chess club, visit www.darkknightschess.weebly.com.