60 Minutes: Chess in the Bible Belt
by Alexey Root
4/12/2017 – The television show 60 Minutes featured the chess program in Franklin County, Mississippi (MS). Over 15 million viewers watched that episode (original air date March 26, 2017), which featured Dr. Jeff Bulington along with his chess-playing students and their proud parents. Bulington’s chess program began in August of 2015 and is sponsored for ten years by an anonymous wealthy benefactor. Here is the report and commentary by Alexey Root.
According to the 60 Minutes report, last year only seven of the 93 graduates from Franklin County High School went on to a four-year college. But every chess player that the 60 Minutes reporters spoke to plans to attend college someday. One reason that the Mississippi chess children may be considering college is because of full-ride scholarships for chess. Although partial chess scholarships had been offered, the rivalry between The University of Maryland, Baltimore County and The University of Texas at Dallas at the turn of this century was the start of full-ride scholarships for chess. “Full-ride” means four years of tuition, fees, books, and room and board. In other words, a “full ride” makes a four-year college education free of charge for academically-qualified chess players. As those two universities alternated winning the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship, they received positive media attention and attracted top scholar-chess players as students. Other universities noticed. Following the lead of UMBC and UT Dallas, several universities now offer full-ride scholarships to chess players. Even students that don’t expect a full-ride are influenced by the media attention garnered by college chess programs.
Additionally, Grandmaster Susan Polgar of Webster University (currently the top college chess team) has personally influenced chess teacher Jeff Bulington. He emailed, “I have learned from Susan Polgar’s methods of chess instruction.” He also lists Grandmaster Sam Palatnik and FIDE master Loren Schmidt as influences. About Schmidt, Bulington emailed, “Loren’s analysis of the fundamental role a diverse community’s feedback plays in the acquisition of chess skill is central to my understanding and practice of teaching chess.” About the 60 Minutes story on Bulington, Loren Schmidt posted on Facebook, “I’ve known Jeff since he was a kid in Indiana and I was a young master (and chess teacher) completing my doctorate at Purdue University. I later had the pleasure of serving on his doctoral committee at Purdue.”
Full article here.
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– GM Susan Polgar