State News

November 9, 2013

Teens build community, life skills through chess

School-aged children and their chess boards taking over a downtown Athens pizzeria isn’t too typical a sight on a Friday night. But every third Friday, young chess masters meet at Little Italy to compete with rooks and pawns against one another, and often older community members.

Over slices of pizza, the teens battle at the game board with the broader goal of learning to think before they act, said organizer Lemuel LaRoche.

LaRoche, a social worker, has long incorporated chess into his work with at-risk teens. The strategies a chess player employs on the board can translate to real life, he said. Last year, LaRoche organized the inaugural Chess and Community Conference, where students from North Georgia competed in chess and composed essays that challenged them to think about their roles in society.

Now, for the first time since 2008, LaRoche is leading a eight-member chess team up to the national Bum Rush the Board chess competition in Washington, D.C. The team competes Friday and Saturday.

LaRoche, whose 2008 team took second place in the competition, said chess teaches teens to “think before you move,” also the conference’s motto. But a group of young, low-income, black children seen engaging in a battle of strategy also challenges negative stereotypes that even the children themselves sometimes believe, he said.

“We want to show the good, the talent, in the Athens community,” LaRoche said. “We can show (young people) committing crime, or we can show them using their intelligence.”

Clarke County School District substitute teacher Broderick Flanigan, one of LaRoche’s partners, has seen students channel their energy onto the game board.

“I think it helps them slow down,” he said.

Frank Howard has “too many examples” of how he’s used chess strategy to counteract impulsive behavior.

A seven-year chess veteran, 17-year-old Howard has used chess to excel in school; he’s jointly enrolled at Clarke Central High School and Athens Technical College.

“Sometimes when I’m angry, chess helps me think of the consequences,” Howard said.

“In my opinion, chess is the ultimate metaphor for life,” said Zak Hardaway, a recent graduate of Cedar Shoals High School planning on attending Georgia State University. He calls chess a form of mediation.

“Impulsiveness is not something that can happen when you think,” Hardaway said.

LaRoche’s chess efforts caught the eye of one local businesswoman who attended the first Chess and Community Conference. Impressed with what she saw at the January 2013 conference, Patricia Wilker, owner of event planning company Eventsibles, has partnered with LaRoche to coordinate the 2014 conference. She watched in awe one recent Friday as two dozen Athenians played chess game after chess game under LaRoche and Flanigan’s watch.

“All these things we talk to young people about, they are actually doing it,” Wilker said.

Taking his chess team to Washington, D.C., isn’t cheap, explained LaRoche, who cited a lack of funding as the main reason he hadn’t taken a team since 2008. A shoestring budget, LaRoche said, is more than he has to work with. So he hopes to attract business leaders like Wilker and more community partners to build the youth chess community.

Donations to help the team pay for Bum Rush the Board, or to contribute to the 2014 Chess and Community Conference, which includes essay competitions with $1,000 scholarship prizes, can be made by visiting

Text Only
State News
  • One charged in death of Dalton woman, another sought

    A Dalton woman found dead in Calhoun earlier this month is believed to have died of a drug overdose after two Calhoun residents abandoned her in a car behind the VFW on East Line Street, Lt. Tony Pyle with the Calhoun Police Department said Wednesday afternoon.

    June 18, 2014

  • Guard shot at FedEx center to undergo 14th surgery

    A security guard critically wounded when a gunman went on a rampage at a FedEx facility is scheduled to undergo his 14th operation Tuesday.

    May 27, 2014

  • Arson ruled out as cause of chemical plant fire

    Police say investigators have been able to rule out arson or foul play as the cause of a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles.

    May 27, 2014

  • Teen tied to shopping cart drowns in lake

    Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials say a teen has died after being tied to a shopping cart and pushed into Lake Allatoona.

    May 25, 2014

  • Underground tattoo artists frustrate officials

    The work of tattoo artists whose living rooms double as body art studios might come cheap, but experts say the unsterile -- and illegal -- work environments could leave clients in pain long after the initial sting of the needle subsides.

    May 25, 2014

  • No runoff lets Republicans focus on Rep. Barrow

    While Georgia Republicans have to wait until July to settle runoff races for the U.S. Senate and three open House seats, one of the biggest GOP victories in the primary elections last week went to Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen.

    May 25, 2014

  • Audit probes juvenile justice turnover rate

    A state audit cites low pay, long hours and management concerns as reasons for a relatively high turnover rate at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

    May 25, 2014

  • Atlanta schools ex-tech director to be sentenced

    After his relationship with the superintendent of Atlanta’s school system soured, a former technology director for the district set up a kickback scheme to pad his pockets before he left his job, according to court documents.

    May 24, 2014

  • Georgia veteran, 92, honored at surprise ceremony

    Family and friends surprised a 92-year-old World War II veteran from Georgia on Memorial Day by honoring him and presenting him with the World War II Victory Medal.

    May 24, 2014

  • Police: Massive chemical plant fire extinguished

    Authorities say a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles has been extinguished.

    May 24, 2014