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Englewood Chess Champs Deserve To Visit Obama, White House: Danny Davis

 Chess coach Joseph Ocol helps his students practice after school.
Chess coach Joseph Ocol helps his students practice after school.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

WEST ENGLEWOOD — Getting the Earle STEM Academy chess team to the White House is U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis’ (D-7th) goal.

After the five-member all-girls group won a national championship trophy from the All-Girls National Chess Tournament in Chicago last month, Davis has been working on getting the entire team of 35 a tour of the White House, as well as an introduction with President Barack Obama.

“Not everybody gets a chance to go,” Davis said. “I never had a chance to go to the White House when I was growing up. It didn’t even cross my mind that there would be an opportunity to one day go to the White House.”

Davis said his staff receives dozens of requests a day from people trying to get into the White House, but he’s making it top priority to schedule a tour for the chess team. He said he’s also working on getting a meeting with senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. Setting up the tour is easy, he said, but scheduling a meet-up with the president will be much more difficult.

Chess member Brandon Burgess, 10, said he really wants to go.

“It would be exciting” to meet the president, he said.

Earle chess coach Joseph Ocol said that Davis’ office reached out to him. He said he would love to give his students the opportunity to visit the White House. Before joining the chess team, many students now on the team had never left Chicago, Ocol said.

“They are very excited about the possibility of meeting the first African-American president,” he said.

Despite the team getting its budget slashed as Chicago Public Schools cut budgets around the district earlier this year, they’ve still been able to bring home trophy after trophy. A GoFundMe page was created to help them with traveling costs.

In the all-girls tournament in Chicago last month, they competed against 64 schools from across the country. They were one of only two African-American teams. The win was the first national championship team trophy for the school.

Davis calls this win a “great accomplishment and a great achievement.”

"Lots of folks don’t know how to play chess,” he said.  “Chess is not the easiest game in the world. We are as proud of them as we can possibly be, and we hope they will be diligent in their studies, keep on going to school, and maybe one of them will become president.”

The girls are excited about the accomplishment. Many said they didn’t think they had a chance at taking home the first-place trophy because the other players were more advanced and experienced.

“The competition was hard,” said 14-year-old Gelita Woodlow. “They put us against players that had a higher rating than us, but my coach told me that it don’t matter about your rating. He said he knows I’m a good player and if I just think and take my time then I could beat them.”

Learning that their team had won was “exciting” for 13-year-old Angelique Wilson.

The eighth-grader said she initially felt intimidated by the other teams, but Ocol boosted  her confidence.

Monique Williams, 13, felt the same way.

“I was happy because I didn’t really think I could win because a lot of those girls were really smart and good,” she said.

Monique said she loves chess so much that she practices every day and even bought a board to use at home.

“I play with my older brother and I teach my mother how to play,” she said.

The girls all said that even after they graduate, they will still come back and volunteer their time because they’ve learned a lot from chess.

“It’s a lot of fun. It teaches you to use teamwork,” said Angelique.

Chess was more than a game for 12-year-old Breanna Shaw.

“It helped me learn how to focus on a lot more things and it helped me to think better,” she said.

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