Chess Association Turns to Private Schools to Stay Alive
Carmel Christian School in Matthews First to Receive Instruction

Erica Oglesby
October 1, 2010

Refusing to call checkmate, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association is devising new tactics to survive its latest setback -- a recent loss of funding from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Among its latest gambits, the group will open its program to private schools, and Carmel Christian School in Matthews will become the first private school to welcome the organization.

The association provides chess instruction to area students and hosts tournaments and other events. Until now, the association has depended solely on the school system for funding, including $75,000 last year. District officials pulled that funding in August, the first time the association has lost funding since its creation in 1985.

The association used district funding to pay six instructors to work with more than 100 local chess clubs, helping an average of 1,500 chess students each year.

For now, the loss of funding has caused the association to pull out of Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools, only sending one teacher to each club once a month. If a chess club wants more instruction, it now has to pay for any additional visits.

Right now, the association is operating by using up its reserve funds, which will likely run out by year's end, association President Rose Yen said. Elizabeth Lane Elementary in Matthews is among the schools affected by the chess club cuts. The school currently doesn't have an active chess club.

Bill Li has been playing chess for four years and was a member of Elizabeth Lane's chess club for two years. Now a middle-schooler at J.M. Robinson, Li plays chess competitively but got his start at Elizabeth Lane.

The news of the budget cuts hit him hard. "I'm very shocked and kind of sad about chess club closing," he said. "It is a great opportunity to have fun, communicate and improve chess skills. (The instructors) really helped me. They showed me openings, puzzles and games improving my skills. If it wasn't for the instructors, I would still be playing chess with no goals."

Turning to private schools

The association will soon offer chess instruction at Carmel Christian and is hoping other area private schools will take interest.

"Now that there is no (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) contract in place, we've decided that any school that wants instructors is welcome to have a (Scholastic Chess Association) instructor come out," Yen said. "Thsi has been in part to help keep our instructors employed. The fee goes straight to tehm. We don't pocket any part of it. And also our hope is to reach more students in our local area."

An association instructor since 2004, Chris Mabe is one of those who will lead the first chess sessions at Carmel Christian. Mabe has been playing chess since he was a child and, as an instructor, has taught more than 300 students each week.

"The kids are great. The job is great," he said. "As an education tool to help them learn more, (chess) is invaluable. The thing about (the association) is we reach children who would never get any instruction in chess otherwise."

Carmel Christian has had a chess club for several years, but this will be the first time students have had an instructor lead lessons, said Kevin Honbarger, Carmel Christian chess club staff liason. The club boasts more than 30 students.

"We see this as a great blessing for our group to have this opportunity this year." Honbarger said. "We trust that with Mr. Mabe being present, he will be able to teach (our students) the things that they used to miss just playing socially."

The association's involvement with the club "is going to be something that helps us grow this program in the years to come," Honbarger said.

Want to help?

To return chess instruction to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association is seeking donations. To donate or get more information, visit