Chess club improving lives of kids in California neighborhood

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's not every day you see a bunch of 8, 9 and 10 year-olds huddled around a chess board, but every Wednesday, a group of young boys make their way to a small room at the California Community Center to master the game of strategy.

"I had the resources and the time and the expertise so I could not say no," said Michael Ryan-Kessler who coaches the kids.

The chess club is just one of the programs offered at the newly opened JCPS West Louisville Satellite Office. They've only been meeting a few weeks, but it's already a hit with students.  

"There are definitely a couple of students who have taken a shining to it," said Ryan-Kessler.

Just a few weeks ago, 8-year-old Damiean Brown didn't know a pawn from a king. Now he's a mini-expert.

"I don't want to get all my pieces taken because if I get all my pieces taken, and I get a checkmate, I'll lose the whole game," said Brown.

It takes concentration to conquer the slow-paced game, which often comes with intense competition and sometimes that creates conflict.

"You want them to be able to talk it out, understand that there's another match coming," said Annie Haigler, coordinator of the West Louisville Satellite Office.

It's a learning process and with every move they make, what they don't realize is they're learning major life skills.

"So if you're setting up those moves down the road, that's strategy. You've got to know what this move right now will do to put you in position to get to where you want to go. That's life." said Haigler.

Ryan-Kessler hopes to eventually take the small team to competitions, but for now he's focusing on personal growth.

"Just a level of personal accomplishment and setting goals or even surprising themselves with what they're able to do and what they're able to learn about themselves in this game," said Ryan-Kessler.

At the end of each game win, lose or draw, it all comes down to the handshake.

"A handshake is everything. Being able to look another person in the eye, reach out and shake their hand in friendship," said Haigler.

 Life lessons as they move across the small board that's part of the bigger picture.

Any student is invited to play in the chess club. They're currently looking for more volunteers to coach.

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