NORMAL — Garrett Scott was 19 when he heard the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the nation’s capitol, dreaming of a world where people would be judged by their character and not their color.
“I was inspired,” he said, and then he and friends stopped at a restaurant and were refused service.
“I was well aware there were some places you don’t go if you are part of a mixed (race) group,” he explained Monday to about 260 K-5 students gathered to play chess at Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center. “I was 19 years old. It made me angry.”
“Dr. King meant a lot to me and still means a lot to me,” he said, and the MLK chess tourney – now in its 25th year – embodies two things that mean a lot to him: civil rights and chess.
This year’s tournament drew students from 32 Twin City, Champaign, and Peoria schools. Some past players are doctors, physicists and computer designers; several were football quarterbacks, he said.
Chess is big in the Twin Cities in part because of the dedication of parents and volunteers, said Darren Erickson, tournament director for Bloomington-Normal Area Scholastic Chess, which organizes the event.
It was the first visit for Prairieland Elementary fourth-grader Tyler Ahrens, son of Brett and Tamara Ahrens. He lost his first game, but looked forward to more. “I knew the rules and wanted to play,” he said.
Fourth-grader Len Brown, 9, of Peoria, quickly won his first game. “Chess encourages, discipline, linear thinking, sportsmanship and patience,” said his father, Bryan Brown.
Prairieland fifth-grader J.D. Kelley has attended more than a dozen tournaments, and won second place for players with under-800 in a state competition. Ratings are determined by the skill of the players. “You have fun when playing,” he said.
Colene Hoose Elementary fifth-grader Cassie Parent estimated she has attended 70 tournaments, including national competitions in Dallas, and won first place in an all-girls national event in Chicago.
One of her long-time chess friends just quit playing this year, but that won’t happen to her anytime soon.
“I’ve gone too far to stop,” she said.
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– GM Susan Polgar