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Shawnee Neighborhood Chess Classic draws adults and kids from across Louisville

Jam Pinpin, 13, competes in the Shawnee Neighborhood Chess Classic.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Jam Pinpin, 13, competes in the Shawnee Neighborhood Chess Classic.

Chess players gathered at Shawnee Library Saturday for the first Shawnee Neighborhood Chess Classic.

The basement of the Shawnee Library was silent, except for the occasional click of a chess piece or clock. Adults and kids as young as 7 years old stared intently at the chess boards in front of them as they competed against each other in the first Shawnee Neighborhood Chess Classic.

The tournament was put on by the West Louisville Chess League. The league is sponsored by the Kentucky Chess Ambassador, a nonprofit designed to bring the game to kids across the state, especially in underserved neighborhoods.

Coach Corbin Seavers, who founded the program in 2019 and has been coaching since 2010, said he got back into chess for his daughter. He lost touch with the game after college, but he wanted a fun way to enhance his child’s critical thinking skills and stimulate an interest in math.

“She just got so into it. She would be so focused, it was amazing,” Seavers said. “I just said to myself, ‘My lord, If it's doing this for her, I need to share this with other young people.’”

The tournament drew around 20 people to Shawnee to compete in three 40-minute rounds of chess. Seavers said he wasn’t certain there would be enough interest to hold a full tournament, but Saturday’s turnout proved him wrong.

Chess players gathered in the basement of the Shawnee Library for the Shawnee Neighborhood Chess Classic, put on by the West Louisville Chess League.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Chess players gathered in the basement of the Shawnee Library for the Shawnee Neighborhood Chess Classic, put on by the West Louisville Chess League.

The ambassador program has five volunteer coaches who help teach kids at chess camps and run clubs through schools. Temi Acampora, 14, began coaching kids’ camps for the chess league last year and has been playing the game for seven years.

Temi and her father, Lewis Acampora, came together to compete in the Shawnee tournament. Temi said it’s exciting to give other children the opportunity to play a game she loves herself. She sees them make the same mistakes she made as a young player and can help them grow along with her own game.

“I have noticed a lot more young people doing it. When I was doing it in elementary school, there were not a lot of younger kids. But there's a lot, like at the camps that I volunteer at,” Temi said. “I just like sharing things that I like.”

Theodore Johnson watched as his youngest daughter, 13-year-old Jam Pinpin, practiced before the tournament with another young girl. Johnson said he doesn’t play chess much himself, but he’s gotten three of his kids involved with the league, and two participated in the classic. He said he wanted to give his kids a boost in school and see them develop more self-confidence.

“It’s a game where you have to think ahead. Hopefully this here will help my children in life [so they] don’t just think about today but also think about tomorrow,” Johnson said.

Seavers said he hopes to continue expanding the program, bringing chess clubs to more schools and holding more children’s chess camps. The Shawnee Neighborhood Association approached him to hold another summer camp next month, and now he said he’s wondering if he should look into setting up a monthly chess club for the neighborhood.

“Man, with this kind of turnout, it just might be possible,” Seavers said.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.