Sam Macer was the kind of kid who, to put it kindly, didn’t care to conform.”I don’t know how many middle schools he’s been kicked out of,” said Belinda Chance, the art teacher and chess coach at West Baltimore’s Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle School, to which Sam, surly and argumentative, was admitted last year. “He was very angry. He yelled at teachers. He’s yelled at me before.”
When Sam, now 13, asked to join Chance’s chess club, she almost didn’t let him in. But she reconsidered.”I thought, ‘Maybe this will be the thing that will help,'” Chance said yesterday at the Citywide Chess Championships at the Johns Hopkins University, where Sam, his hands dancing across the checkered board, subjected one of his opponents to a minute drubbing.
In Sam’s case, chess made all the difference.
“It calmed me down,” he said during a break between matches. “It got better when I really started to know how to play. I look at chess as life: There’s different ways you can move in life. Chess helps me decide, when a situation comes up, the move I want to make.”
Yesterday, Sam shrugged off his losses in two other matches, a sign that, as even he acknowledged, he is maturing as both a player and a young man.
At the tournament, some 235 elementary and middle-school students – all from Baltimore public schools – battled for chess supremacy in Johns Hopkins University’s Glass Pavilion, a space that went from a fitful silence during matches to an eruption of noise at the end of each round.
“It gives them a chance to work on their giftedness,” said Bettie J. Williams, an instructional support teacher at Rosemont Elementary/Middle School, which entered five students – three of them first-graders – in the tournament for the first time.
For many of the students, it was also the first time they had set foot on the university’s Homewood campus, a grand and unsullied place far removed from the battered neighborhoods some of them call home.
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