A normally clamorous basketball court sits empty and orange balls sit idle outside the Back2Back Cincinnati Academy downtown. The teens are waiting patiently inside for another type of game – one sitting opposite a safe adult over a cream and brown checkered board.
Chess may seem like an unlikely after-homework activity, but it has been a journey many have taken at the Back2Back Cincinnati Academy. Following their class time, children can eat snacks, work through homework, and take advantage of the opportunity for growth and development, like playing games with their peers or talking with a trusted staff member. Most kids choose a game, or go outside to walk, or play pick-up basketball. A few weeks ago, staff members showed a couple interested kids how to play chess. As more children learned the craft, patience, and focus required to beat an opponent in chess, boards were quickly chosen over basketball games, and one day, there were no boards left to choose from.
Devon*, a teen in the program, stood his ground for a while on not learning how to play. “I’m not playing chess,” he said, and quickly grabbed a ball to head outside. Each day, the courts were less full and six weeks in, Devon saw his peers beating the adults who taught them to play, and decided he wanted in.
Finally, Devon approached Back2Back staff member, Rick Moore, and asked him to teach him the new game. f. It didn’t take long before he was beating his opponents. One day, as Devon was part of a close match, a staff member commented, “Devon, I’ve never seen you sit so still and focused for an hour!”
Devon looked up, eyes wide. “It’s been an hour?! Felt like five minutes.”
To look around Back2Back Cincinnati Academy and see multiple chess matches taking place is to see tangible evidence even the most dysregulated child can be met right where he is, and learn patience and strategy in new ways.
To this, we say, game on.