Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association loses funding.

Erica Oglesby
September 17, 2010

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association may hear "Checkmate!" well before its time is up.

Losing funding for the first time since beginning in 1985, the group feels much like a chess pawn: under attack and struggling to make its next move.

The association is solely funded by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and the school district eliminated its $75,000 budget in August. The group needed every dollar to pay for six instructors, including national masters and experts, to teach in local chess clubs at more than 100 area schools.

For now, the loss of funding has caused the group to pull out of schools, only sending a teacher to each club once a month. If a chess club wants more instruction, it has to pay for those visits. Right now, the association is operating by using up its reserve funds, which will likely run out by year's end, according to association President Rose Yen.

With more than 71 chess clubs in Charlotte schools, the association works with more than 1,500 students each year. Each chess club has on average 25 students who meet weekly.

Chris Mabe, a full-time instructor for the association since 2004, has been playing chess since he was a child. Mabe reached more than 300 students at 15 different schools each week before the club lost its funding.

"It is great. The kids are great. The job is great," Mabe said.

Mabe believes chess can help each child who plays learn to socialize and concentrate on a higher academic level.

"As an education tool to help them learn more, (chess) is invaluable," he said.

"...The thing about (the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association) is we reach children who would never get any instruction in chess otherwise." On his circuit of schools, Mabe visits Ballantyne Elementary, home to one of the largest chess clubs in the system, with 130 students during the past school year. Gary Zukowski, the Ballantyne Elementary Chess Club sponsor and father of five, has enjoyed watching his children and others grow through the game of chess.

"(Chess) has been a very positive impact for the kids in the class," Zukowski said.

Having the ability to sponsor such a large club, Zukowski can pull together financial resources to bring in a chess association instructor more than just once a month, but he hopes the club's funding returns soon.

"What these guys bring to the table is far more expertise than what any of us parents could bring," Zukowski said.

The group is currently accepting donations. To donate or find out more, visit