Southbridge teenager Johnny Means has formed a chess club designed to do more than just play games.
Johnny Means’ goal is not to just play chess well but use it as a life lesson to keep others out of trouble. For the past six years Means has worked on mastering the game and spending three nights a week teaching it at the Neighborhood House in Wilmington.
Many of the young people are learning the game for the first time, but Means certainly has their full attention. He teaches about 20 students and has several goals in mind for each of them.
“I’m just trying to get their ratings up, trying to get more people, trying to push them forward into the chess world and have them learn stuff,” Means said.
Means’ first started with volunteering at the Neighborhood House and eventually decided to form Wilmington Urban Chess, a non-profit that’s all about chess and at-risk youth. The self-described mission of the organization is: “Wilmington Urban Chess Initiative strives to support youth through the lessons of chess to succeed personally and academically, resist negative influences, and make smarter, healthier life choices.”
JoAnn Means, Johnny’s mother, shared her philosophy, “I always say if we’re able to save one child we’ve done our part because having the influence of Johnny they see him as a role model, they see him as a mentor, they see him as a young black kid from the same place that they are at.”
Additionally what the kids learn here can apply to their daily lives.
“I believe chess helps kids think strategically. It helps them think before they react to things and it boosts test scores. Little Johnny has always been an above average student and I believe chess has a great deal to do with that,” JoAnn said.
To date grant money from Walt Disney and support from local leaders has helped the chess club and Means’ mother believes the future is even brighter.
“Ideally I like to have a center that focus on chess, STEM programs, unique things for kids to get into. You also want to be able to stimulate your child and so for me chess has been a godsend so I would love to have a center in the city of Wilmington catering to these kids and letting them see that there’s more to life than just sports and things like that,” JoAnn said.
Johnny hosted the first tournament with his students on January 30th. His goal is to host more and put Delaware on the map in the world of chess. Visit the website for more information about the Wilmington Chess Initiative – www.wilmingtonurbanchess.com.