Sister Cities Chess Partnership Unites Students around the Globe in Intellectual Competition

Jonathan Plaster, Chairman (Coach) of Atkins Chess club, Atkins High School, Winston-Salem, NC; Sharon Glover, Sister Cities Ambassador for Freeport & Nassau; Shaun & Catia Gittard, Sister Cities Ambassador for Ungheni, Moldova; and Shawn Sorsby (Coach), Bishop Micheal Eldon School, Freeport, Grand Bahama

Atkins High School Chess Team at State Scholastic Tournament in 2015

Ever since chess was invented around 1,500 years ago, players from around the world have sat across the board from each other to compete on an equal playing field, regardless of age, gender, and language. Chess truly is a timeless game that bridges humanity in a figurative power struggle of the intellect. Fast forward now to the year 2015, and students in three cities around the world are now using modern technology on chess.com to play their global counterparts.

In conjunction with Winston Salem Sister Cities, players from the schools are using the site to view and submit their moves in a modern version of “correspondence” chess. Atkins High School in Winston has one of largest high school chess teams in the Southeastern United States and plays in local, regional, and the state scholastic tournament.

“I was surprised and delighted when I was contacted by Shaun Gittard of the Sister Cities group; this plan was just the type of opportunity I’d been looking for,” said Atkins HS teacher Scott Plaster, the coach of Atkins Chess Team. The partnership was originally going to be between the Atkins High School group and a school in Moldova. It wasn’t long before Sharon Glover, contact for Bahamas Sister Cities, became involved to make the partnership a truly global venture between three cities. Glover heads an organization that is a leader in training and facilitation and advocates for environmental, cultural, and educational issues in schools and communities. “Chess is a popular game throughout the world and is able to connect people, even across language barriers, which makes it a great tool to use to bring people together,” said Glover.

The online chess play happens over the course of days (even months), with each player having three days to make a move. “With the difference in time zones, this type of set-up was absolutely essential; it’s just like the days before the internet when players would write their move on a postcard and mail it across the country or overseas to their opponent,” said Plaster. Each player in the groups will maintain games with each of the other groups and the games will continue indefinitely. Some will be won, and some will be lost, but the name of the game is “global partnership.” Students will get to know each other through the online communication features so that they can learn about each other’s countries in the process. Plans are also coming to add other Sister Cities to the partnership, including Shanghai, China.

Shawn Sorsby’s chess group in Freeport, Bahamas

The Freeport, Grand Bahama chess group has already grown in number to exceed even the Atkins High School group. Bright and curious, the students are eagerly learning the game and are rapidly improving in skill. It’s been said that Grand Bahama Island has it all: one of the world’s largest underwater cave systems, three national parks, miles of beautiful beaches and crisp blue waters. Now add chess to the list; Bishop Michael Eldon School (BMES) became the only school on the island with a chess team.

Coached by math teacher Shawn Sorsby, the BMES Warriors are now going out to battle in a game of the minds, on the chess board. Since most students at BMES had never played chess before, one might think it would have been difficult to build interest. To much surprise, however, in only a matter of months the chess team, known as the PAWNSTORMERS, has grown to become the largest team at the school with over 40 members! While many students had the notion that chess was only for “nerds” and might not be for them, now even the “cool kids” are playing chess, which is cool indeed.

The students themselves see many benefits to chess beyond just the game itself. Eighth grader Rolith Nair said, “Chess can teach you many good lessons like patience and focus, and also can help your mind mentally. It’s better than playing video games!” Ninth grader Elijah St. Armand even pointed out a life lesson he’s learning from the game of chess: “One advantage to playing chess is weighing options because on the chess board if you make the wrong move you can easily lose, and the same goes for life.”

Practice in Chess hall in Ungheni, Moldova

Meanwhile in Ungheni, Moldova, a very established chess program is also a part of this global partnership. The Ungheni chess club was set up within the Municipality Sports School for youth and children, where there are two chess coaches (Vladimir Pricladov and Iulian Bacalu). Ungheni chess club is attended by 150 children and young people aged between six–35 years old. Up to 30 children and youth participate in the daily chess workout.

Winston-Salem Sister Cities is an all-volunteer organization. Their goals are to promote peace through diplomatic relations between citizens and to create economical, cultural, and educational connections that even break through challenges such as language barriers. They have been working on connecting these vastly different and far away places. Now we are doing it through the game of chess to better relations and understanding between students of similar age.

Chess.com is an internet resource that is already being used by Atkins Chess Coach Plaster and will quickly be instated as a way for these students to play. The site has a virtual chess board that has a drag and drop function for moving pieces along with a user friendly app that is regularly used by the Atkins Chess Team. The product is free but with many payed advantages available.

You can learn more about the individual chess groups and follow their progress on the Sister Cities Global Chess Partnership website.