Wednesday, November 30 2011, 10:45 PM
A BROOKLYN middle school’s championship chess team is trying to avoid being checkmated by budget cuts.
Students and faculty at Intermediate School 318 in East Williamsburg are frantically trying to raise as much cash as they can to keep funding their top-shelf chess team.
School officials said budget cuts and the economic slide have made it nearly impossible to make ends meet. “It’s kind of like a double whammy,” said Assistant Principal and chess team organizer John Galvin. “We don’t have the money and [parents] don’t have the money, but somehow we’ve got to make it happen.”
Galvin said he was able to use school funds to run the $100,000 program, which boasts 28 national championships, before the cuts started in 2008. Now, administrators need to come up with at least $60,000 to cover the costs.
Student chess players have already raised $12,000 from selling chocolate bars, and administrators were able to scrape together an extra $10,000 from private donations. Money has gotten so tight for the team that Galvin said he ran up an $8,000 tab on his credit card two weeks ago covering the team’s hotel and airfare on a trip to Dallas for a national competition. The team won in the eighth-grade division.
Galvin, who said he’ll be reimbursed from the fund-raising, said the chess program is important for his students who come from poor families. “The premise of the team is that if you work hard and you study, you can be the intellectual equal of any kid in the U.S.,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what language you speak — no one has an advantage when you sit across the board.”
Seventh-grader Shanniah Wright said she’s sad the team cut back on its local competitions. “I don’t get as much practice playing different people as I would like,” said Shanniah. “I could get better at chess before the nationals.”
“It makes me a little sad that I can’t do that,” said eighth-grader Isaac Barayev, 13. “You miss out on the experience and the fun of playing chess.”
Galvin said his chess team has bigger things to worry about than team finances.
The team is visiting Google’s Chelsea office to push around the firm’s executives on the chess board Thursday, and in the spring, it will be matching wits with students from Columbia University and NYU.
In April, the team heads to San Diego for the National Junior High School Championship.
Meanwhile, the team is also the subject of the forthcoming documentary “Brooklyn Castle.”
“I don’t want the kids to worry about how they are going to afford the trip,” Galvin said. “I want them to worry about being good students and great chess players.”
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