V.I. students took a celebratory trip to Disney World Monday for all the right reasons – the 17 students had just won the scholastc division of the U.S. Amateur Southern Region Chess Tournament in Orlando, Fla.
The students, sponsored by the V.I. Institute for Teaching and Learning, returned Tuesday with their arms full of trophies and plaques. At least 15 teams from throughout the Southeast competed.
The 17 Virgin Islanders were divided into four teams. One of them, the Rock City Gambits, took first place, winning all five of its competitions. Rock City Gambit members are Abdul Abiss and Arthur Williams Jr. of Charlotte Amalie High School, Alex Emerich of V.I. Montessori School and Shamil Vanterpool of Addelita Cancryn Junior High School.
The Gambits also won for best name in the scholastic division.
Another V.I. team, the Tropical Storm, took third place overall in the division. Its members are Brianna Rhymer and Tabari Lake of CAHS, Jen Joe Canezal of Bertha C. Bocshulte Middle School, and Nikosi Jones, Gifft Hill School.
"We are so proud and happy for these youngsters," said Sinclair Wilkinson, chess club coordinator for the V.I. Institute for Teaching and Learning. "This is only their second time at an off-island tournament and they won the very top honor. The kids conducted themselves very professionally and had a wonderful attitude during the tournament."
The team had finished second at the tournament a year ago, losing on tie-breaks. According to Melinda J. Matthews of the U.S. Chess Federation, writing on the group’s website, "they descended upon the tournament determined to take clear title this year."
Three students from the V.I. contingent won awards for not losing a single match during the event. They were Emerich, Vanterpool and Jones.
Another V.I. team, the Hurricane Knights, won an award for their performance as first-time participants at the tournament. They were made up of Julian Francis Jr. of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School; Precious Flaherty, CAHS; Matthew Wilkinson, Joseph Gomez Elementary School; and 7-year-old Alessandro Gever of Antilles School.
The tournament was held over the weekend at the Sonesta Hotel, on the edge of downtown Orlando. Besides facing other competitors from around the southeast, the chess players also had to contend with a large, lavish wedding reception, complete with D.J., which was in an adjacent hall.
After the awards were presented, Matthews asked the V.I. chess coach, former World Chess Olympiad participant Darryl Allen, what the team was going to do. She wrote on the website, "And, in what has become the classic answer for sports champions of every type and ilk, he responded, ‘We’re going to Disney World!’"
The V.I. Institute for Teaching and Learning is a nonprofit organization based on St. Thomas that conducts chess clubs at eight St. Thomas schools and one on St. John.
The trip to Orlando for the 17 players and six coaches and parent chaperones, was made possible in part by donations from community members, the Prior Foundation, V.I. Lottery, the Economic Development Authority, Bertha C. Bothchulte Middle School, Rotary Club II of St. Thomas, Carib Tradewinds Lodge, Albert Richards and Lonnie Hudspeth.
Further information on the chess in schools program can be obtained by calling the institute at 777-7030.