Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
The chess team at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics doesn't have the storied chess legacy of, say, Edward R. Murrow High School, which has won several state and national championships and received ample media coverage over the years. But, after claiming the 12th grade national team title in December, Bronx Center is quickly establishing a reputation and will be one of the teams to beat at this weekend's citywide championship in Manhattan.
"Coming off of a win I want our team to still be hot, still be on fire," said Tae Kim, a senior and one of four nationally ranked players on the Bronx Center team.
"I was, like, daydreaming in class thinking about competition," said Matheu Jefferson, also a senior. "You never get tired of winning, but at some point your appetite grows for it."
Jefferson helped found Bronx Center's first competitive chess team at the end of his sophomore year. The team only started playing tournaments last school year, and now has its sights set on more titles and recruiting players to create a lasting program.
Along with Kim and Jefferson, three of the team's other players are also seniors: Antonio Castelan, Aleem Griffiths and Jonathan Hidalgo. They have just one underclassman on board, Justus Williams, who is a freshman. He is a chess master and was featured in the documentary Brooklyn Castle. Williams and others on his team learned chess starting at a young age through the program Chess in the Schools.
The players say they've planted a seed at Bronx Center, and now they want to leave a legacy.
"We want our school to continue to be strong in chess," said Hidalgo. "We want our school to be known."
To do that, they have a plan to recruit more underclassmen and teach them strategies at weekly chess team meetings after school. They want girls on the team; now there are none. However, recruiting girls is a challenge, according to the teenage boys on the team.
"Girls are like, 'I don't know. Are my friends going to be there?'" said Jefferson. "You have to actually round up a whole four girls and make sure they're all friends if you want to do it. It's very hard to get one girl."
The school's principal, Edward Tom, is throwing his support behind the new endeavor of competitive chess. He has always prioritized after school programs, he said, such as tutoring, athletics and the performing arts. But until he found himself with a student population that had four nationally ranked chess players, he said it never crossed his mind to make chess a focal point of the school.
“The more I think about what the boys have accomplished, the more in awe I am of what’s going on," said Tom.
The Bronx Center team is aiming for a win this weekend, and wants to take the state championship title in February followed by Supernationals in April.