Chess In the Park Hoping To Spark Love of the Game


Gifft Hill School students Maysonne Attika, 16, and Kayden Richards, 15, enjoy an afternoon chess game and mild weather in Franklin Powell Sr. Park on Wednesday, February 12.

A few years ago the pocket park across the street from the Loredon Boynes Ferry Dock in Cruz Bay took on a new appearance. Last week the park, with its parquet brickwork, brick bordered trees and low stone walls got another taseful touch.

Two chekered gameboards with bench style tables were  added to the park, courtesy of VI First Lady Cecile de Jongh and a non-profit group that helps the youth.

Mrs. deJongh came to admire the new installation Wednesday, February 12, accompanied by St. John Adminitsrator Leona Smith and students from Gifft Hill School and the Julius E. Sprauve School Interact Club.

The first lady called the initiative Chess in the Park. It’s designed to encourage students to learn more about the centuries old Persian strategy game.

The idea came to her during a visit to New York, the V.I. First Lady explained.

“I was in Central Park and I was walking through, I saw the chess tables, people playing chess and having a good time,” she said.

Upon her return to the territory, the first lady began thinking Virgin Islands parks would also be a good setting for chess enthusiasts.

With help from donors, who raised $5,000 and helping hands from My Brother’s Workshop, the tables were made.

Led by Scott Bradley, My Brother’s Workshop is well regarded among some disenfranchised young men and boys. Bradley gives them a chance to learn building trades and carpentry and along the way, self-worth.

VI parks already set the scene for domino table games, something that can be seen almost daily in Franklin Powell park. Several members of the Interact Club said they played dominoes but were just being introduced to chess.

Classmate Lion’Ess Bruce, 13, showed them how. She said she learned by playing with her brother at home. Although he is a better player, she explained, occasionally she beats him.

“I like chess very much because its a nice challenge, and its interesting to see who’s going to win,” Bruce said.

Chess is part of the school curriculum in several nations worldwide, including China, Brazil, Venezuela, Russia and Greece. According to a website promoting the benefits of teaching chess to children, the game shows children how to use planning, patience, discipline and confidence.

Sixteen-year-old Maysonne Attika, a tenth grader at GHS, said he used to play in the territory’s World Chess Federation. Taking a seat at the board in the park with a friend, Kayden Richards, Attika said he was glad for a chance to play.

“I haven’t been playing for a while but it’s still fun,” he said.

Chess benches are also being set up in Roosevelt Park on St. Thomas, across the street from the Department of Education; in Emancipation Garden and on St. Croix at Limpricht Park in Christainsted.

Mrs. deJongh said she’s hopeful students on St. John and St. Thomas will use the new facilities to grow a passion for the game.

Resident Ronnie Jones said he used to teach students in Cruz Bay when his son attended JESS. He encouraged residents with an interest in the game to make time for students willing to learn.